Lecture 19: Zophar declares Job to be God’s enemy
Course: The Book of Job
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.
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.