Job 20, Exegetical Notes from Abner Chou

The question of Job, by way of reminder, is Is God right? The heavenly courtroom sets up the underlying drama for the earthly courtroom where Job and company have an epic debate spanning various epistemological levels, including pre-modern, modern, and post-modern. Right now we are at the end of the modern phase: what you see is what you get, and you can evaluate reality by your senses. (But this view isn’t comprehensive enough to make a valuable assessment.)

Zophar is the final guy in the debate segment. This is his last speech, and we still have one more segment to go through, so he doesn’t speak in the last one. Why? There are a lot of answers, but it’s probably because he just shuts up. But why? First, because Job’s critique is so devastating he has no response. There’s nowhere for him to go. There’s no philosophical explanation after this point (Zophar is the philosophy guy). Rationality reaches its limits, which is interesting because it ends right when the post-modern round of debate begins. Second, it accentuates this last interaction. At this point you have the full distillation of the DR Principle (that God treats us as we deserve), and Job unloads on him in Job 21.

Job 20

After Job has forced them to retreat in their epistemology, Zophar is the core, and this chapter reflects that core that can’t be distilled anymore.

Job 20:2

“Therefore” is weird because he hasn’t been speaking. Why open this way? It is a response to everything that has been said thus far. This is a summary statement and synthesis of all the prior dialogue.

Job 20:3

Job has been insulting them from above, in a disciplining manner, and Zophar can’t take it anymore.

Job 20:4

He appeals to ancient wisdom. This is the way the world is period, he says.

Job 20:5

What the wisdom always knows is the DR Principle: that the wicked do not ultimately prosper. And in the standpoint of eternity, he’s right, but that is not Zophar’s perspective. The thesis statement of Zophar’s dialogue is “God always gets justice, in this life.” He’s looking at this life and sees God as having perfect justice. (Side-note: we like this in our culture. We like retribution. We like the good endings. Same thing with Karma: what goes around comes around. While the truth is sometimes suffering in this life never goes answered as it prepares you for the ultimate weight of glory. And sometimes the wicked go unpunished [until death].)

Job 20:6-7

A contrast is setup between the evil man’s height of glory—being on top of the world (inference: like Job)—and his death: that he will perish forever like dung. Those who see him don’t even recognize him because he is so misinformed (inference: when they first saw Job, they didn’t recognize him). Zophar is using Job as case-in-point that evil is always punished.

Job 20:8-9

Another unit is formed here talking about the permanence of destruction. Zophar compares such a man as one who flies away like a dream that you can’t grasp. This man’s house is changed and his home is no longer his home. He is wiped out, with no place to turn to. The destruction is permanent. Both animate and inanimate objects have wiped you from memory.

Job 20:10

His sons try to get a favor from the poor because he is poorer than the poor. The idea is that when the bad guy steals from the poor, the poor will get their justice and the rich man will be lower than them. (Uh, no, the wicked don’t always die poor. Actually it’s rarely the case.)

Job 20:11

All wicked people die when they are young. (Uh, no they don’t. But isn’t this always the way the movies work? Zophar is the way we imagine the world to be; it appeals to what we really believe, because everyone is a Zophar. We want life to be Fair as we see it.)

Job 20:12-13

This begins a new metaphor. This guy chews a piece of candy in his mouth and really enjoys it, but he tries to hide it. This is the metaphor for the wicked man. He is savoring his wickedness while hiding it. The question becomes “Can he get away with it?” Answer: verse 14.

Job 20:14

The food has its justice. In this metaphor, justice is served because the candy turns to poison. But how does the candy turn to poison?

Job 20:15

This is the key; this is where he breaks metaphor and shows how this works. God is the one who turns the candy to poison (God is the one who acts according to what we think is Fair, in a DR Principle way.) This is the key verse in this discussion.

Job 20:16

It was poison from the very beginning. Zophar is arguing that God doesn’t turn it into poison, God always planned that it was poison. The evil itself is setup to destroy them, because God designed it that way so they would die. This is the core of the DR Principle. When you do bad things, you get bad things. (And sure, this is sometimes true, but it’s not the way the world works—it’s not ultimate.)

Job 20:17

Streams and honey and milk talk about agricultural fruitfulness. The best the land has to offer. This is the land of paradise, and yet…

Job 20:18

He cannot experience it because he is dead, executed by God. And his wealth is swallowed up by someone else.

Job 20:19

Why? Because of his greed.

Job 20:20

He always eats more and more and he will let nothing out of his eyesight; and he brings it on his own head. In his greed, he takes in the evil with the good, consuming both together and that is what kills him. This happens all the time (look at Hollywood), but does it always happen this way? No.

Job 20:21

There’s nothing left for him, because he has tried everything and nothing fills him.

Job 20:22

It is ironic because what he thought would fill him actually crushes him. Like a hoarder that dies trapped in their stuff.

Job 20:23

God will always get the one He’s angry at without exception. This is Zophar’s point, repeated over and over

Job 20:24-26

This man can’t escape from God’s wrath. It is sure.

Job 20:27-28

Supernatural language. God will shake heaven and earth to cause this man to suffer. And everything he has will be taken away on the day of God’s wrath. This isn’t eschatological; it’s about the personal death of this man. Every evil man experiences his own day of reckoning before he dies. This is Zophar’s worldview.

Job 20:29

God ordained it this way! This is the nature of the DR Principle. It is decreed by God and it always happens this way. Zophar is making the case in this chapter that God always punishes the wicked because He has decreed it to be so, and He will stop at nothing to get justice in this life. Job’s response in Job 21 is fierce.