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Tremper Longman: Zophar concludes the second cycle of the friends’ arguments with his second speech of the debate. He is offended at what he hears from Job and feels compelled to respond. He appeals to an authority beyond himself, a spiritual authority (v. 3).

Zophar then delivers one long description of the horrible consequences that will come on the wicked (vv. 4–29). Though they might appear to prosper in the present, this prosperity will be short lived, and like Bildad in chap. 18, he argues that they will ultimately have a bad end. He ends his speech by confidently stating, “This is the lot of people who are guilty before God, the inheritance decreed by God” (20:29).

John Hartley: In this speech Zophar treats only the negative tenet of the doctrine of retribution, the certain punishment of the wicked. No matter how high a sinner may seem to rise, his downfall will come quickly. The deceitful deeds that have led to his success bear in themselves a deadly poison that will destroy their doer. God himself enters the fray as a mighty warrior to bring down this arrogant foe. Then God holds court to pronounce the final sentence against that evildoer. In the end a torment sweeps away that guilty party and all that he has.

David Atkinson: Zophar, sadly, has little genuineness, even less warmth, and no empathy at all!

Thomas Constable: This speech must have hurt Job more than any that his friends had presented so far. Zophar was brutal in his attack. He continued the theme of the fate of the wicked that Eliphaz and Bildad had emphasized. However, whereas Eliphaz stressed the distress of the wicked and Bildad their trapped position, Zophar elaborated on the fact that wicked people lose their wealth.

David Clines: Zophar’s second speech is neatly structured. After the conventional exordium (vv 2–3), his traditional material on the fate of the wicked falls into three sections:

(a) How thorough is the annihilation of the wicked! (vv 4–11).

(b) There is no lasting profit from wrongdoing (vv 12–23).

(c) The inescapable end of the wicked (vv 24–29).

Like the other friends, Zophar confines himself in this speech of the second cycle almost exclusively to a depiction of the fate of the wicked, though to a different purpose and effect from the other friends. Whereas for Eliphaz (chap. 15) the fate of the wicked is a picture of what Job is not, for Bildad (chap. 18) it is a picture of what Job may become, and for Zophar it is a picture of what Job will not avoid without a radical change.

E.S.P. Heavenor: Suffering Job appears in a false light as sinning Job. The false light on man results from a distorted vision of God. There is nothing in Zophar’s words to suggest that God is anything more than an impatient judge, as impatient as Zophar himself. “When the zealot makes his own opinions and sentiments the standard of divinity, there is a magnified Zophar on the throne of the universe” (Strahan).

Charles Swindoll: Zophar is delivering his lecture not unlike a novice coloring by the numbers – his numbers. To this man, everything is crystal clear and overly simple. Everything can be reduced to simplistic axioms, which explains why Zophar stands so firm in his comments about the brevity of life, the temporary pleasures of wickedness, and the judgment of God. Job will soon point out the error of Zophar’s analysis, but first let’s be sure we track the man’s thinking.


“Then Zophar the Naamathite answered,”


A. Driven to Respond by Troubling Thoughts

“Therefore my disquieting thoughts make me respond,”

B. Driven to Respond by Inward Agitation

“Even because of my inward agitation.”

B1. Driven to Respond by Insulting Attacks

“I listened to the reproof which insults me,”

A1. Driven to Respond by a Desire to Impart Wisdom

“And the spirit of my understanding makes me answer.”

Chiastic structure: A / B / B1 / A1

Elmer Smick: Zophar takes Job’s words, especially his closing words in 19:28–29, as a personal affront. Job has dared to assert that on Zophar’s theory of retribution, Zophar himself is due for punishment. To Zophar such can only happen to the wicked.

Zophar is the most emotional of the three friends; and he is not about to let Job’s rebuke go unanswered, though in chapter 19 Job earnestly pleaded for a withdrawal of their charges. Here he has nothing new to say to Job but speaks with passion. The speech is full of terrifying imagery.

John Hartley: Taking Job’s complaint about the way the friends have treated him and Job’s solemn warnings as a personal rebuke, Zophar feels grieved and insulted. His irritation is visible in the fiery tone of this speech. Nevertheless, he promises an insightful response with the words the spirit of my understanding gives me an answer. This phrase means both that Zophar’s spirit is compelling him to respond to Job (cf. 32:18) and that his words come from reasoned insight (cf. Fohrer). This is his way of reassuring Job that his speech will convey wisdom.

David Clines: Zophar’s response to Job’s new theology is an appeal to reason. The “impulse from his understanding” that supplies him with the words of this chapter is something he fondly imagines is the product of pure reason. Unfortunately for him, his very next words (v 4a) show the source from which his “reason” has been fed: it is the wisdom of the ancients, undiluted and uncontaminated by any truly original thought of his own. “Unlike the suffering Job, who has had everything shattered to pieces, and who feels himself crushed and exhausted, Zophar remains rooted in the native soil of his rationalist wisdom teaching, and draws strength from it” (Fohrer).


A. (:4-11) Momentary Triumph (High Visibility) Trumped by Permanent Disappearance

David Clines: This is fairly evidently a self-contained unit, partly because it moves to a point of closure with v 11b (“lies down in the dust”) and partly because a new sustained metaphor of food begins in v 12. But what precisely is the point of this strophe? Rowley labels it “the brevity of the triumph of the wicked,” Habel “Rapid Fall of the Wicked,” Fohrer “The early and utter fall of the evildoer” (vv 4–7) and “The apparent good fortune of the evildoer” (vv 8–11), Terrien “The disappearance (évanescence) of the wicked” (vv 6–9, 11), Szczygiel “The brief good fortune of the godless, even of the greatest” (vv 1–6) and “Sudden loss of wealth and health” (vv 7–12). Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that a strophe will develop a single primary thought, but we may surely ask What is the dominant metaphor here. If we do, we shall not fasten on “brevity” but on the visual image of “absence” or “disappearance,” since that is obviously the most sustained image, through vv 7–9. The wicked man ceases to exist like fuel for the fire (v 7a), like a dream that can never be found (v 8), like a person who disappears from the sight of friends and family forever (vv 7b, 9). This evanescence occurs despite the high visibility of the wicked in life: he may be as tall as heaven (v 6)—a visual metaphor. So the evanescence is set up against its opposite, an appearance of solidity, of occupying space. That visual contrast is then depicted temporally: now you see him, now you don’t. The prominence of the wicked turns into the invisibility of the wicked.

1. (:4-5) Triumph is Fleeting

“Do you know this from of old,

From the establishment of man on earth,

5 That the triumphing of the wicked is short,

And the joy of the godless momentary?”

John Hartley: Zophar begins his exposition with a rhetorical question. The formulation of the question implies that should Job deny the answer, he would in effect be saying that he denies the oldest, most honored teaching of the wise. The wisdom from them is true because of its great antiquity; it goes back to God’s placing man on earth. . . Job should know the ancient wisdom, which teaches that the mirth of the wicked is brief. While the godless may experience the ringing joy of festivity (renānâ), their joy is hollow, being but for a brief moment. Zophar is arguing that the punishment of the wicked is an integral part of the world order. It is thus unthinkable that there may be an exception, even in Job’s case, to this moral law.

2. (:6-9) Memory is Forgotten

“Though his loftiness reaches the heavens,

And his head touches the clouds,

7 He perishes forever like his refuse;

Those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’

8 He flies away like a dream, and they cannot find him;

Even like a vision of the night he is chased away.

9 The eye which saw him sees him no more,

And his place no longer beholds him.”

Peter Wallace: He will perish forever like his own dung! Remember that Job and his friends are sitting on the ash heap – the place where the dung was burned. The image (and the smells) would have been all around them!

John Hartley: vv. 6-7 – The higher a wicked person climbs the ladder of success, the harder his fall. Having gained power and wealth, this person’s height mounts up to heaven and his head appears to touch the clouds. Zophar is drawing on the mythic portrait of the mighty ruler who rises from poverty to dominate the world (e.g., Isa. 14; Ezek. 28). Swelled with pride this monarch thinks that he is a god. But at the peak of his glory this giant falls, tumbling to the abyss as swiftly as he rose to prominence (cf. Amos 9:2; Obad. 4); he will perish forever. This godless person who was applauded by the masses will be reduced to insignificance. The same masses will taunt him by asking, Where is he? This question underscores the pleasure that the very ones who applauded him take in his disappearance. There will be no lasting memory of his triumph. It will be as though he had never been.

Trevor Longman: In v. 5 Zophar asserts that the success of the wicked is temporary, even if they reach the highest pinnacles of success. They may reach the sky, so to speak, and still come crumbling down. Indeed, they will disappear. Verse 7a puts it in an interesting way: they “will perish forever like their dung.” Dung perishes over time and leaves a smell, at least for a while. Their disappearance will cause their friends to ask, “Where are they?” Once so prominent, they are no longer to be found on the scene (v. 7b). Indeed, their existence will be like the existence of dreams, ephemeral (v. 8). Dreams often seem real until the dreamer wakes up and realizes that they are an illusion. The events in the dreams never happened. The success of the wicked, according to Zophar, is like that. Once success and wealth disappear, they will seem as if they were never real. The idea that wicked people’s temporary success “flies away” is somewhat reminiscent of Prov. 23:5, which pictures wealth flying away, but this time like an eagle: “it will surely grow wings like an eagle and fly heavenward.”

3. (:10) Reparations Impoverish His Sons

“His sons favor the poor,

And his hands give back his wealth.”

Elmer Smick: Oppressing the poor is the mark of the truly wicked (vv.10, 19). On this subject Job has no quarrel with Zophar (see 31:16–23). But, of course, he denies being that kind of person.

John Hartley: The vast wealth this wicked person has accumulated will not endure, not even as a part of his family’s inheritance. The nature of his punishment means that his children will also suffer for his wickedness. His sons will have to redress the poor, those impoverished by the evil deeds of their father. As just retribution, the evildoer’s massive wealth will go back to those from whom he has coerced it (cf. 5:5). Zophar is renouncing the faulty belief that one can amass wealth by unjust practices in order to leave it as an inheritance to his children.

4. (:11) Vitality is Viscerated

“His bones are full of his youthful vigor,

But it lies down with him in the dust.”

Definition of Viscerated: To remove the item that makes a person or thing strong

David Clines: The thought of the premature death of the wicked is appended to the strophe, which otherwise has concerned simply his disappearance from earth: he vanishes, and that before his time.

B. (:12-23) Momentary Enjoyment Trumped by Poisonous Consequences

David Clines: This second strophe defines itself by the sustained metaphor of eating: we have the mouth (v 12), the tongue (v 12), the palate (v 13), the stomach (v 14), the innards (v 14), the belly (vv 15, 20, 23); there is savoring (v 12), swallowing (v 15), vomiting and disgorging (v 15), sucking (v 16), disgorging (v 18), not swallowing (v 18), eating (v 21); there is sweetness (v 12), oil, honey, and cream (v 17), food (v 23); above all, there is fullness of abundance (v 22) and filling to the full (v 23).

Not surprisingly, the metaphor is deployed in a variety of ways. The primary theme appears to be that the sinner gains no lasting profit from his wrongdoing. This links back into the primary image of the previous strophe (vv 4–11), the ultimate disappearance of the evildoer. The food he eats leads to his death, not his life.

– In the first place, the image is of food that is pleasant to the taste but sours the stomach and is vomited up (vv 12–15), so that it does not function as life-supporting food.

– In a second version of the image, the food that he eats is itself actually deadly poison, which prevents him enjoying real food and compels him to vomit it up (vv 16–19).

– The third use of the image has him eating as a glutton and consuming all available food so that he possesses no further stocks of food and thus through his appetite is brought to starvation (vv 20–22).

– Another dimension to the image is provided by the notations that God makes him vomit up his food (v 15b) and that the food he believes is sustaining him is actually the anger of God that is bloating him (v 23).

Throughout these varying deployments of the controlling metaphor is the idea that there is no lasting profit from his eating (v 18b).

1. (:12-16) Deceptive Sweetness of Wickedness

a. (:12-14) Sweetness of Wickedness Transformed to Poison

“Though evil is sweet in his mouth,

And he hides it under his tongue,

13 Though he desires it and will not let it go,

But holds it in his mouth,

14 Yet his food in his stomach is changed

To the venom of cobras within him.”

John Hartley: In these verses Zophar vividly sets forth the axiom that evil deeds contain their own penalty. A wicked person savors his evildoing just as a child holds a sweet morsel under the tongue, refusing to swallow it until he squeezes out every bit of favor. But no matter how long he keeps the morsel under his tongue, it dissolves eventually. While the wicked person also relishes the sweet taste of evil, he will have to swallow his evildoing in time. Then it will turn in his stomach, unleashing its curse against him. It is like poisonous food; even though it has been sugar-coated for a pleasant taste, it unfailingly releases its poison in the stomach. Soon the victim is doubled over in excruciating pain. His insides burn so hotly that it feels as though they are full of venom. Without any antidote for the poison, he will die in agonizing pain.

b. (:15) Swallowing Riches of Wickedness only to Vomit Them Up

“He swallows riches, But will vomit them up;

God will expel them from his belly.”

John Hartley: The rich delicacies of his evildoing will inflict him with torturous vomiting. God himself will forcefully administer the emetic, as the verb disgorges (hôrîš) indicates. While wicked deeds contain their own punishment, God himself activates that punishment. It is important to observe that in this manner of reasoning no clear distinction is maintained between primary and secondary causes.

c. (:16) Slain by the Poison of Wickedness

“He sucks the poison of cobras;

The viper’s tongue slays him.”

Tremper Longman: Verses 12–16 develop a single image of evil and its consequences. Evil is like a delicacy that one eats and savors before it turns bad and those who have consumed it vomit. At first it is sweet to the taste (v. 12a) of the wicked, so sweet that they put it under their tongue to keep from swallowing it and thus lose the taste. They spare it from going to the stomach (v. 13a), sucking every bit of sweetness out of it. But v. 14 notes a change. What was once sweet is now sour, even poisonous. It is like the poisonous venom of an asp. It makes them sick, and they vomit it up (v. 15). Verse 16 then states that what they put in their mouth was really the poison of an asp. Its sweet taste was an illusion. What they thought would strengthen them will cause their death.

Verse 15 indicates that the subject is wealth. That is what tastes sweet to them but in the final analysis will hurt them, and they will finally have to give it up. Zophar in this speech had earlier commented about the brevity of the joy and wealth of the wicked (v. 5). Here he seems to indicate that wealth itself will hurt the wicked and ultimately lead to their death.

John Hartley: Intricate plans to outwit another for wealth obsess him. But he falls to his own cunning. The very snake he loved to play with bites him.

2. (:17) Denial of the Fundamental Good Things in Life

“He does not look at the streams,

The rivers flowing with honey and curds.”

Tremper Longman: Verse 17 continues the description of the disappointment of the wicked. While they hoped to gain a life of luxury through their evil, Zophar says that they will not even look on streams of oil, wadis of honey and butter. “Oil” refers to olive oil, a staple of the area used for food, medicine, skin cleansing, and more. “A good supply of fresh oil was a sign of stability, prosperity, and the Lord’s blessing. . . while the loss or lack of it was a sign of his judgment.” Zophar is thus saying that these wicked will not even look on (or perhaps experience in the sense of partake of) oil. The same is true of honey and butter, luxury food items. Again the theme is that the wicked will not partake of accoutrements of wealth and luxury.

John Hartley: Cursed, this greedy evildoer will not even enjoy the land’s basic produce. In Palestine oil, honey, and curds, along with wheat, were the staples. With oil a person anoints himself, cooks his food, and lights his dwelling. Honey, usually date syrup, enriches his diet, and curds offer him refreshment from the heat of the day. When the land produces these staples in abundance, it is said that there are streams of oil and rivers flowing with honey and curds.

3. (:18-19) Deeds of Oppression Bring No Lasting Joy

“He returns what he has attained

And cannot swallow it;

As to the riches of his trading,

He cannot even enjoy them.

For he has oppressed and forsaken the poor;

He has seized a house which he has not built.”

Tremper Longman: The wicked will not stay rich, and they will not enjoy their riches.

Elmer Smick: vs. 19 — The evil man’s wicked deeds, especially robbing the poor, are tasty food that pleases his palate but turns sour in his stomach. God will force him to vomit up such ill-gained riches. Zophar’s teaching conforms to Proverbs’ point that the wealth of fools will not last, and even while they have wealth, it will not help, but even hurt them (Pr 11:4; 21:6). In v.19 Zophar claims that fools get rich off the backs of the poor, a practice condemned by Proverbs (Pr 28:27; 29:7). In his peroration (chs. 29–31) Job will stress his own social conscience and strongly deny Zophar’s veiled accusation.

4. (:20-23) Disappointment of a Frustrated Life that Will Suffer God’s Wrath

a. (:20-21) No Rest or Contentment

“Because he knew no quiet within him

He does not retain anything he desires.

21 Nothing remains for him to devour,

Therefore his prosperity does not endure.”

John Hartley: Vs. 20 — That evil person’s successes in crushing the poor have inflamed his passion for things and for power. His craving constantly gnaws at him. No matter how much he feeds it, it refuses to subside. He finds no satisfaction in what he has accumulated. Controlled by his drives, he never has a moment of rest.

Vs. 21 — No one is safe from such a person’s plots to dominate and to extort. Since no one is beyond his evil influence, nothing of his prosperity will endure. The principle is the greater the evil, the greater the punishment.

b. (:22-23) No Escaping the Retribution of God’s Wrath

“In the fulness of his plenty he will be cramped;

The hand of everyone who suffers will come against him.

When he fills his belly, God will send His fierce anger on him And will rain it on him while he is eating.”

David Clines: The wicked person thinks that he has been satisfying his greed; but he will not know what satisfaction really is until he is filled by the wrath of God.

C. (:24-28) Mandatory Destruction that Proves Terrifying and Inescapable

Francis Andersen: vv. 23-28 — This seems to be a distinct poem. The verb forms express wishes, as if Zophar is calling down God’s wrath on the wicked, like the curse in 5:3. In the references to various weapons there are painful echoes of Job’s description of God’s savage attack upon him (chapters 16 and 19).

David Clines: This third strophe has as its principal theme the inescapability of the end of the wicked. That is the significance of the military narrative (vv 24–25b): even if he escapes one weapon, he will fall to another that will prove fatal. There is then a depiction of the arrival of death itself, which he experiences as terror and as darkness. More objectively, his death is described as being consumed by divine wrath (v 26), and then a cosmic imagery of a legal procedure presses home the point that he has no defense against a death sentence (v 27). Parallel to the consuming fire of v 26 is the overflowing waters that “roll away” him and his house (v 28). Finally, a summary appraisal (v 29) draws together the twin strands of the evildoer’s fate as both his own creation (cf. “inheritance”) and as divine punishment (cf. “portion”). The imagery here is almost exclusively violent; apart from the law court images of v 27, there is the battlefield image of v 24, focusing down to the close-up on the wounded man pulling the arrow from his body only to lose his vitals in the process (v 25), the fireball (v 26b–c), the flood (v 28).

1. (:24-25a) Bitterness of Penetrating Attack

“He may flee from the iron weapon,

But the bronze bow will pierce him.

25 It is drawn forth and comes out of his back,

Even the glittering point from his gall.”

Elmer Smick: When a wicked man’s belly is filled and there is nothing left for him to devour, God then vents his anger against him (vv.20–21). The man flees from an iron weapon only to be shot in the back by a glittering bronze arrow that must be pulled out of his liver (vv.24–25).

Tremper Longman: While fleeing an iron weapon (suggesting a weapon that would be hard if not impossible to break), they are pierced by a bronze-tipped arrow. They are shot in the gall bladder, spewing forth bitterness. They will suffer a severe fate, so a heavy fear overtakes them (v. 25c).

2. (:25b-26) Terror of Certain Destruction

“Terrors come upon him,

26 Complete darkness is held in reserve for his treasures,

And unfanned fire will devour him;

It will consume the survivor in his tent.”

Tremper Longman: Both darkness and fire represent punishments. The unfanned fire may be a reference to lightning, which God will send in the direction of the wicked. Their guilt will be revealed broadly, and the entire earth will seek recompense. Because of the anger of God, everything will be taken from them.

3. (:27-28) Despair of Complete Defeat

a. (:27) Opposed by Heaven and Earth

“The heavens will reveal his iniquity,

And the earth will rise up against him.”

David Clines: The implication is that the crimes of the evildoer are on such a scale that heaven and earth have been compelled to take cognizance of them; they can then be called upon to testify to what they have seen and heard (cf. Ps 19:2–3 [1–2] where the heaven “recounts” God’s glory and one day “shows knowledge” to the next of what it has learned). Heaven and earth also function as enduring witnesses. . .

b. (:28a) Loss of Family

“The increase of his house will depart;”

c. (:28b) Loss of Possessions

“His possessions will flow away in the day of His anger.”

John Hartley: With this metaphor Zophar is undercutting the basis of Job’s hope. Job is convinced that he is innocent. Since all the visible evidence is against him, his only hope to prove his innocence rests with his heavenly witness (16:18–20), namely, God his kinsman-redeemer (19:25). But Zophar attacks Job’s bold, venturesome statement as presumptuous. For him Job’s daring faith is the apex of audacity. In it is contained the cause for the final blow to Job. When the divine court hears Job’s case, the heavens will bear witness to Job’s guilt. Since God is already convicting Job, it is impossible to believe that the heavens would give testimony that would counter God’s judgment. In thinking otherwise Job is deluded. The court will pronounce the sentence of total destruction against the evildoer.

(:29) Summary Thesis

“This is the wicked man’s portion from God,

Even the heritage decreed to him by God.”

John Hartley: In conclusion Zophar restates his thesis. God has assigned the exact portion that will befall the wicked person. Portion (ḥēleq) means a person’s rightful share of something, e.g., a share in the spoil from war or a lot of land or a part of an inheritance. Here the sinner’s final punishment is called his portion, the heritage decreed for him by God. The language of portions and inheritance is used to indicate that the evildoer’s lot is just and determined.

G. Campbell Morgan: These closing words were in the nature of a summary of all he had been saying. The sufferings he had described were such as fell to the wicked, and that by Divine appointment. All this was true. But other things were true, of which he seemed to have no knowledge… The narrowness of Zophar’s philosophy made him unjust to Job.