The Book of Job - Lesson 19

Zophar Declares Job to be God’s Enemy (chapter 20)

Zophar uses metaphors that are found in other passages of scripture as well as Job’s own words to accuse Job of being wicked. However, Zophar made a serious error, which we need to avoid in our lives.

Duane Garrett
The Book of Job
Lesson 19
Watching Now
Zophar Declares Job to be God’s Enemy (chapter 20)

I. An Appeal to Job to be Quiet and Listen

II. Zophar Accuses Job of Being Wicked

A. Zophar's metaphors describing the wicked

B. Zophar's metaphors describing Job specifically

III. Warning

  • When you see what you would describe as evil and injustice in the world, how does that affect your view of God? When someone is suffering, do you assume that it’s because they are getting what they deserve? This lecture gives you an overview of book of Job by describing his situation, how he interacts with his friends and God, and what we can learn about how God is managing the world.

  • Because there is nothing specific in the text that tells you when the book of Job was written, the sections in Job that allude to other passages of scripture give you some helpful clues. The structure of the book of Job focuses your attention on the main subject of the book which is God’s wisdom.

  • Other cultures in the ancient near east created literature with themes that are similar to the book of Job. The book of Job is unique because of his character and the answer that the book provides for the situation he is in.

  • Job is one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament. It covers more “advanced” topics than Proverbs and uses a variety of literary genres and allusions to other Biblical passages to explain and illustrate profound truths about God’s nature and his involvement in the world.

  • There is limited information in the book of Job about its geographical and historical background. However, it can be helpful to understand general information about the geography and history of the area to give you a context for reading and studying the book of Job. The author of the book of Job was a Hebrew poet who had an extensive vocabulary. Being uncertain about history and geography is good because the message is timeless.

  • Job contains literary elements that are similar to what you find in other Biblical books that are Apocalyptic. These elements include depictions of events in heaven and on earth, the emphasis on specific numbers and persevering in your faith in God, the references to mythological animals and God’s supernatural control of all events. 

  • Satan appears before God with an accusation against Job. Even though Job is described as, “upright and blameless,” Satan accuses Job of serving God only because Job is prosperous. God allows Satan to take away Job’s possessions, children and health. The remainder of the book is the dialogue of Job and his friends attempting to determine why this is happening.

  • Job curses the day he was born. When you carefully examine what he is saying, you realize that it is more intense than just saying that he wished he had never lived.

  • Eliphaz begins tactfully in his remarks to Job. He did not intend to do harm. However, he thinks God is causing Job to suffer because of a sin Job committed. He speaks accurately of the justice of God, but in Job’s case he misapplies it. He also gives a message he received from the, “night spirit.”

  • Eliphaz considers the message of the, “night spirit” a revelation from God. However, at it’s core, this message is inconsistent with God’s attitude toward Job, and creation in general.

  • Job’s theological worldview has fallen apart because he knows he doesn’t deserve to suffer. Eliphaz calls Job to repent. Job responds questioning why he is suffering, because according to his worldview, he hasn’t done anything to deserve it.   

  • Bildad is direct is his rebuke and admonition of Job. He uses metaphors to get his point across.

  • When Job’s friends describe God as all powerful in an attempt to comfort Job, he becomes terrified because he sees God as causing his suffering and there is nothing that can stop it.

  • Zophar assumes that Job is being punished because he sinned and accuses him of mocking God. Job's three friends move from tactful suggestions to open hostility. As Job is searching for answers, he becomes disappointed in his friends.

  • Job agrees with his friends that God is causing his suffering, but disagrees with them about why it’s happening. Job believes that God will eventually vindicate him.

  • Eliphaz appeals to the night spirit and the tradition of the elders to tell Job that he is a babbling and blaspheming fool.

  • Job begins by criticizing what his friends are saying to him and then professes his faith in God. Bildad responds harshly to Job.

  • Even though Job’s friends have criticized him, he has grown in his faith in God. Job is worn out and begs for compassion. When he gets nothing but contempt and hostility instead, he confesses his faith and hope in God. The messianic theology of Job is different from any other book of the Bible.  

  • Zophar uses metaphors that are found in other passages of scripture as well as Job’s own words to accuse Job of being wicked. However, Zophar made a serious error, which we need to avoid in our lives.

  • Job continues to wrestle with the presence of evil in the world and the apparent injustice of God. 

  • Eliphaz attacks Job as being wicked by twisting the meaning of what Job has said previously. The irony is that Job will be reconciled to God and will pray for Eliphaz.

  • Job wants to lay out his case before God by claiming his innocence. Job says that God is hidden and does as he chooses, but that God neither judges the guilty nor helps the righteous. Bildad responds by contrasting God’s holiness and human lowliness.

  • Job sarcastically thanks the friends for their wise words, which he doesn’t think were wise at all.

  • This is a poem about wisdom that divides the content of the book and points to a deep truth. It is inserted by the author of the book and is not attributed to Job or the friends.

  • The crisis that Job is experiencing is not just the material losses and physical suffering, but also his crisis of faith. He thought he understood what his relationship with God is all about but he feels that God has abandoned him for no apparent reason. Job laments the pain he feels from being disgraced and humiliated.

  • This is the last major statement that Job makes, other than his responses to God that come later. Job is taking a series of oaths that he has not committed any of the sins he mentions. The Bible is distinctive in declaring that all people are created equally, in the image of God. In ancient cultures, some people intrinsically have more value than others because of heritage, wealth, gender, race, etc. God looks on everyone impartially.  

  • Elihu is not mentioned either before or after his speech. He claims to be perfect in knowledge. Elihu thinks that the other three did not convince Job because they did not give a satisfactory answer, but Elihu ends up repeating what they have already said. He thinks that the doctrine of retribution is the answer to Job’s situation. Elihu is a warning to us that we don’t have all the answers.

  • The questions of the book of Job are, “How does God address the problem of evil and why do we serve God? God created a world that is stable and not chaotic. Where there was chaos, God brought in light, shape and beauty. Chaotic forces are necessary for life and God controls them.

  • People in ancient Mesopotamia lived in constant fear of the chaos, danger, ferocity of nature and they valued subduing, controlling and pushing back nature. Wilderness was something to be tamed and pushed back by civilization. In the Gilgamesh epic poem, Enkidu is transformed into a civilized man who protects the domestic animals from the wild animals. In Egypt, there were gods of the Black Land and gods of the Red Land. God sees everything in the world as entirely under his control.

  • God’s care for the animals and how this relates to the problem of Job. All of the things that we see as chaos, and out of control depend on God and thrive because he provides for them and things that he manages and glories in. God describes nature as good, unlike the night spirit that describes it with contempt and loathing. God knows how to manage the chaotic elements of creation.

  • The societies of the Ancient Near East had a high concept of justice. It was the duty of the rulers to uphold justice and protect the powerless. If you are a man who leads, you need to make sure that evil is held in check. Listen to people who come to you with a grievance. God is asking Job if he comprehends what it means to bring justice to the world. It involves both power and wisdom.

  • Behemoth is the plural form of a Hebrew word that refers to animals in general also specifically to wild animals. In Job, it’s also used as a metaphor representing the composite forces of the powers of the earth that are against God.

  • Behemoth is a dangerous power that God must reckon with. Some people think this is an allusion to animals that God created in Genesis 1:24. “Lady Wisdom” is the wisdom that God built into creation. Behemoth is dangerous and a force to be reckoned with, not the embodiment of good behavior. One aspect of principalities and powers is forces outside of the world we can see. In Revelation, God protects people from the fury and wrath of the beast, which is an oppressive power that seeks to take the place of God.  

  • Job 41 describes Leviathan. Leviathan is not a natural animal like a crocodile. Sometimes Leviathan refers to a large sea creature, and sometimes death, chaos and the embodiment of evil. Satan is present at the first of the book but he is never mentioned again. In order for God to deal with evil in the world, he must defeat Leviathan.

  • Leviathan is a ferocious creature that no human can subdue. God is saying that he is willing to oppose Leviathan and  is not frightened of Leviathan or intimidated by his boasting. God is the one who will defeat this enemy who seems unbeatable to humans. God tells Job that he will deal with Leviathan but God doesn’t tell him how he will do it. Job embraced God’s answer even though Job didn’t know how God would deal with evil.

  • Job announces that he has changed his outlook on evil, God’s governance of the world and his own suffering. Job knew that God is all-powerful. Now Job knows something more about how God uses his power. Should God be merciful to people who will still be evil? Eschatological is an event that can only happen by a work of God. Emergence of divine power within the historical context. Job admits that he didn’t understand the complexity that is involved in God conquering evil. God forgives Job’s three friends because Job interceded for them. God is showing his approval with job by publicly restoring him.

  • Job’s suffering brought him to a new understanding of who God is and what God is doing in the world. Job’s hope, and our hope, is in a heavenly redeemer that rose from the dead. Legalism comes about often when people hold to essential teachings but they don’t know God. They substitute the rules for relationship.

  • Job mentions composite animals similar to those described in other apocalyptic passages. Job had faith that God would do a work of salvation but didn’t understand everything that Jesus would do. There is a hidden plan of God to redeem people and conquer evil that is a major theme in apocryphal books and also in Job.

  • Job tells us about the heavenly mediator. Prior to his afflictions, Job’s life was almost god-like because he was relatively free of suffering. Job through his affliction, faces the problem of evil and the enormity of suffering in the human race. Even though some people commit evil and violent acts, Job describes them in pitiful terms.

  • Should virtue, or piety, be disinterested? If it’s not done for it’s own sake, is it real? Job’s love for God is not disinterested, but it is real.

If God is good and powerful, why do you see suffering in the world? Why do you serve God even when you experience suffering? How do you respond to others when they ask these questions? How have you answered them for yourself? These are such important questions that the entire book of Job is devoted discussing only these issues in the context of the perspective of the experiences of one person. 

The theme of the book of Job is timeless and singular. There are clues about its geographical and historical setting but nothing in the book itself that identifies the place or time of its writing. However, the setting is irrelevant because the questions that are addressed in the Book of Job are ones that people have asked in all cultures, throughout time. It would be distracting and even limiting to frame the dialogue in a specific time or culture. There are enough clues in the text to give you a general idea of the culture and time it was written in to help you understand the logic and metaphors used by the main characters in their dialogue. 

The complete book of Job is composed of the dialogue of Job, his friends and God regarding the issues of God's goodness, his power, and evil in the world. No historical events. No other personal, corporate or theological issues. Since these questions are central to your understanding of God's character and how he works in the world around us throughout history, the book of Job compels you to consider this question deeply and exhaustively. The point is that by the end of the book, you can understand and articulate who God is and how he works in your life and in the world. 

The value of this class is that Dr. Garrett helps you understand what the text means, the historical and theological implications, and how you apply it to your life. Dr. Garrett's knowledge of the Bible, understanding of the Hebrew language and background in Ancient Near Eastern history and culture inform his insights into the message of the book and what it means to you. He is skilled at explaining technical linguistic and theological issues in a way that helps you comprehend them and see how they apply to your life. Whether you are just beginning in your study of the Bible or you have had training at an advanced academic level, studying the Book of Job with Dr. Garrett has the potential change the way you understand God and also how you live each day. 

Recommended Books

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide

This Student's Guide is for the class on The Book of Job in BiblicalTraining.org. It contains the outlines to the lectures, a summary of each point, and reflection...

The Book of Job: A Biblical Answer to Pain - Student Guide


After Job made his great confession of faith, we might think that the book would be over, but it is not. There are still some serious problems that need to be addressed and so the debate goes on.

I. An Appeal to Job to be Quiet and Listen

Zophar gives his response in chapter 20, verses 1-29 and the structure of it is pretty straightforward. First there is an appeal for Job to stop making insults, and listen. We have seen this before, 20:2 and 3. Then Job is the cunningly wicked man who has now been found out by God, chapter 20, verses 4-29. You get the sense here that the friends are starting to repeat themselves, and they certainly are.

Let’s take a look at what Zophar has to say. Chapter 20, verses 2 and 3: “My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer because I am greatly disturbed. I hear a rebuke that dishonors me, and my understanding inspires me to reply.” Zophar is offended and he just wants to answer. He wants to tell Job how wrong he is and he gets ready to jump back into the fray.

II. Zophar Accuses Job of Being Wicked

Then we have pretty much the essence of everything he says in verses 4-29 where he simply says that Job is wicked. Verse 4: “Surely you know how it has been from old, ever since mankind was placed on earth.” Notice, there is the traditional conservative appeal. This is how it has always been, this is what the elders know. You just need to accept reality as we have taught it to you. Verse 5: “…that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment. Though the pride of the godless person reaches to the heavens and his head touches the clouds, he will perish like his own dung; those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’ Like a dream he flies away, no more to be found, banished like a vision in the night. The eye that saw him will not see him again; his place will look on him no more. His children must make amends to the poor; his own hands give back his wealth. The youthful vigor that fills his bones will lie with him in the dust.”

A. Zophar’s metaphors describing the wicked

I want you to notice here, he has used the metaphor of a dream. The idea here is that the wicked have a life that is fleeting, it is ephemeral. It quickly passes away and becomes as nothing, so it is like a dream that you wake up and it is all gone. So the metaphor here that dominates this passage is the idea that the wicked may seem to thrive for a while; but you look around and they are gone. We should add, that is a Biblical thought. You will see that elsewhere in the Psalms. “Don’t fret yourself over evildoers. Don’t worry too much because sometime you will look for them and they will just be gone. You’ll say, ‘Where is he?’ He is not to be found.” Zophar at this point is using a metaphor that is familiar to the Bible and his teaching is in keeping with Biblical teaching.

Verse 12: “Though evil is sweet in his mouth, and he hides it under his tongue, though he cannot bear to let it go and lets it linger in his mouth, yet his food will turn sour in his stomach; it will become the venom of serpents within him. He will spit out riches he swallowed; God will make his stomach vomit them up. He will suck the poison of serpents; the fangs of an adder will kill him. He will not enjoy the streams, the rivers flowing with honey and cream. What he has toiled for he must give back uneaten; he will not enjoy the profit of his trading. For he has oppressed the poor and the destitute; he has seized houses he did not build. “

I want you to notice here that he has a different metaphor. This is the metaphor of eating. The wicked man is someone who consumes. He is kind of like a glutton. He just consumes and consumes and consumes; but in this case what he eats will not satisfy him, will not fill him. In fact, everything that he eats will turn to poison, it will kill him. The metaphor of the wicked man as someone who consumes gluttonously, but is killed by what is consumed is again, familiar in the Bible. We see it, for example, in Habakkuk chapter 2. Again, everything Zophar is saying at this point is essentially orthodox. The only question is, does it apply?

Picking up at verse 20: “Surely he will have no respite from his craving; he cannot save himself by his treasure. Nothing is left for him to devour; his prosperity will not endure.” Again, he is still with the metaphor of eating and consuming. Verse 22: “In the midst of his plenty, distress will overtake him; the full force of his misery will come upon him. When he has filled his belly, God will vent his burning anger against him and rain down his blows on him. Though he flees from an iron weapon, a bronze-tipped arrow pierces him. He pulls it out of his back, the gleaming point out of his liver. Terrors will come over him; total darkness lies in wait for his treasures. A fire unfanned will consume him and devour what is left in his tent. The heavens will expose his guilt; the earth will rise against him. A flood will carry off his house, rushing waters on the day of God’s wrath. Such is the fate God allots the wicked, the heritage appointed for them by God.”

First thing to notice here is, he has shifted his metaphor. He has gone from this gluttonous eating that kills the wicked man, to the idea of God the enemy of the wicked; God who is a warrior against the wicked. Notice, he speaks of bronze-tipped arrows that God shoots at the wicked man and fire that he brings upon him, and floods that he pours upon him. So, in this part of the text it is the idea that God is like a warrior who has attacked the wicked.

B. Zophar’s metaphors describing Job specifically

All of this again is essentially Biblical. You can find parallels to these passages in Proverbs and elsewhere throughout the Bible. In this case, however, Zophar has a specific person in mind; and the person, of course, is Job.

Let’s look at some of these verses again. Once more, in verse 24: “Though he flees from an iron weapon, a bronze-tipped arrow pierces him.” We look back to Job 16:13, and what do we read? Job is speaking: “His archers surround me without pity. He pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground.” Job has already spoken of being attacked by God as by a warrior, as by an archer; and Zophar says, “That is what happens to a wicked man.”

Job has said that his redeemer would rise against the dust, we saw that in chapter 19, verse 25. What did Zophar say? In verse 11: “The youthful vigor that fills his bones will lie with him in the dust.” So Zophar says, “No, forget it, there is not going to be any resurrection, no resurrection for you. You are just going to lie in the dust.” So he deliberately contradicts this great confession of faith that Job has made. He accentuates the unrepentant attitude of the wicked. Verse 19: “He has oppressed the poor and left them destitute; seized houses he did not build.” He emphasizes their fleeting wealth, how they get rich, but then they lose everything. Verse 20: “He cannot save himself by his treasure.” Verse 21: “His prosperity will not endure.” Verse 22: “In the midst of plenty, distress will come upon him.”

All these things, clearly, obviously apply to Job, as far as Zophar is concerned. So when Zophar throws Job’s words into his own face; when Zophar says, “No, the wicked do not rise from the dust, they lie in the dust;” when he says arrows are being shot at the wicked, he means Job.

Once again, this is a case of true doctrine, of Biblical teaching, that has been misapplied. Zophar has taken genuine Biblical teaching and has used it against a person where it should not be used.

III. Warning

I suppose there is a lesson for us all here. That is the lesson to be careful in how we use the Scripture. We all know that even the devil can cite Scripture for his own purposes, as he did in the temptation of Jesus. The warning for us is, we can take Biblical teachings that are true and if we get mad at somebody, if we just think they are wrong and we want to bring them down, if we want to win an argument, we can take a Biblical passage and hit them over the head with it, to try to force them into submission, where it does not apply.

For example, this can certainly be the case in domestic arguments where a Christian husband and wife may cite Bible passages at each other, how they are
both failing. You’re failing to be a good wife! You’re failing to be a good husband! Look, this is what the Bible says you should do, and you’re not doing it.

Well, that is exactly what Zophar did to Job. He took genuine Biblical passages and he hit Job over the head with them; even though, in fact, they don’t apply to Job at all.

So we should be careful. We have seen how there is heretical teaching among the three, especially in Eliphaz, where he combines Biblical teaching with the teaching of the night spirit. Here in Zophar’s speech it is hard to find anything of itself that is wrong, that is contrary to Biblical teaching. Yet, in the situation in which he used it, it was totally wrong.

With that, we will finish up Zophar’s speech and next time we will pick up again with Job.