Job 20:1-29

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“Zophar the Naamathite” responded to what Job had said. In the Septuagint, Zophar is called the “Minaean.” The Minaeans were an Arab people who may have been descendants of Abraham by his concubine Keturah. (20:1)

The comments of Job caused Zophar to be greatly troubled. He is quoted as telling Job, “Therefore, my thoughts answer me and [that] on account of my hastening within me.” The “hastening” may relate to an internal upheaval or agitation that prompted the thoughts that Zophar expressed when responding to Job. Renderings in modern translations convey a variety of meanings. “My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer because I am greatly disturbed.” (NIV) “My thoughts urge me to answer, because of the agitation within me.” (NRSV) “My thoughts urge me to reply to this, and hence the impatience that grips me.” (NJB) “My distress of mind forces me to reply, and this is why I hasten to speak.” (REB) The Septuagint rendering represents Zophar as saying that he did not think Job would counter things said to him in the manner he did. He is then quoted as using the second person plural when saying, “And you understand also no more than I.” It would appear that the primary reference is to Job, with the plural including others like him. (20:2)

Zophar referred to the words of Job as “discipline of my insult,” meaning “discipline” or “correction” that he considered to be insulting to him. The words that follow (“and a spirit from my understanding answers me”) may indicate that Zophar believed that the words with which he intended to answer Job had come to him by inspiration or from a spiritual source. Translations vary in their interpretive renderings. “A spirit beyond my understanding answers me.” (NRSV) “My understanding inspires me to reply.” (NIV) “A spirit beyond my understanding gives me the answers.” (REB) “Now my mind inspires me with an answer.” (NJB) (20:3; see the Notes section.)

In his reply to Job, Zophar appealed to what he regarded as having been known from ancient times. He indicated that Job should have known what he was about to relate — words he considered as being true and applying since man was placed “upon the earth.” (20:4; see the Notes section.)

Like Eliphaz and Bildad, Zophar believed that the calamities that befell humans were punishment for wrongdoing. Therefore, he maintained that the “exultation of the wicked [is] brief, and the joy of the godless one but for a moment.” Whatever joy the corrupt person may have was certain to come to a swift end. With these words, Zophar implied that this is what happened to Job, for he lost everything and had been gravely afflicted. According to the Septuagint, the “rejoicing of the impious ones [is] an extraordinary downfall, and the joy of the lawless ones [is] destruction.” Their rejoicing or joy end in calamity. (20:5)

Zophar commented regarding the exalted position a corrupt man might attain. This one’s loftiness or excellency (si’) might “mount up to the heavens, and his head” might “reach to the clouds.” According to the Septuagint, the reference is to the offerings a godless man might make, with the possibility of his “gifts” ascending to heaven and his “sacrifice” touching the clouds. (20:6; see the Notes section.)

Despite the dignified standing, the lawless man may come to have, Zophar said that he would perish forever “like his own excrement.” The Septuagint indicates that he would be utterly destroyed just when it seemed he was firmly established. Persons who had formerly seen him would then ask, “Where is he?” (20:7)

Zophar likened the end of the wicked man to a dream that is quickly forgotten. “Like a dream, he will fly away, and they will not find him.” The corrupt man would vanish from the earthly scene, being no more remembered than is a dream. In the Septuagint, the reality that the impious man will not be found is expressed emphatically with two words for “not,” and the complete phrase may be translated, “will by no means be found.” “He will be chased away,” or banished from remembrance, “like a vision of the night.” The Septuagint says that “he has flown away like a nocturnal apparition.” (20:8)

Zophar believed that the godless man would, in the end, completely vanish. An “eye that saw him” would no longer see him, and “his place,” where he carried out his activities, would see him no more. In the third century CE, Origen did not find the words of this verse in the Septuagint available to him. He added them from the version of Theodotion and marked the addition accordingly. The added words convey the basic meaning of the extant Hebrew text. “An eye observed and will not continue” to do so, “and his place will notice him no longer.” (20:9)

Even the “sons” or children of the godless man would suffer. According to Zophar, they would be reduced to such a low state that they would seek the favor of the poor. As far as the lawless man was concerned, he would have to give up what he accumulated. “His hands will return his wealth.” The Septuagint rendering departs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It says, “May inferiors destroy his sons, but may his hands kindle miseries.” (20:10)

Zophar believed that a premature death could be one of the punitive judgments a lawless man might experience. “His bones,” or his physical frame, may still have the strength of youth, “but with him it will lie down in the dust,” the dust of his burial place. (20:11; see the Notes section.)

Zophar described the effect the practice of wrongdoing has on the godless man. “In his mouth,” wickedness might have a “sweet taste,”and he might “hide it under his tongue,” savoring it. (20:12; see the Notes section.)

Zophar continued the description of the lawless one’s attachment to wickedness. He might “have compassion” for it, treating it as something dear to him. The godless man does not let wickedness go but “holds it” or savors it in “his mouth.” (20:13)

In the third century CE, Origen added the words of this verse from the version of Theodotion, for they were not contained in the Septuagint available to him. According to the Greek text that Origen marked as having been added, the godless man will neither spare nor leave evil behind. He “will hold it in the midst of his throat.” (20:13)

Zophar’s description suggests that the practice of wrongdoing was like sweet-tasting food to a lawless man. “In his stomach,” however, “his food is turned to the “gall of serpents,” possibly the venom of cobras. (20:14; see the Notes section.)

Zophar indicated that the lawless man would not be able to retain the riches he had accumulated. He “has swallowed wealth,” but he “will vomit it up.” “God will cast it out of his belly.” The Septuagint rendering differs from the extant Hebrew text. It says that unjustly gathered wealth “will be vomited out.” A “messenger” or an angel “will drag it out” from the house of the godless man. (20:15)

According to Zophar, a corrupt man “will suck” the venom of serpents (“wrath of dragons” [LXX]), possibly meaning the “venom of cobras.” “May the tongue of the viper kill him.” (20:16; see the Notes section.)

Zophar indicated that the lawless man would “not look upon rivers, streams of torrents of honey and curds.” “Rivers” and “streams” are expressions that suggest abundance. The godless man would be deprived of having an abundant supply of honey and curdled milk, as if these provisions had dried up like a stream during the dry season. In the Septuagint, the reference is to his not seeing “milk of pastures nor pastures [or supplies] of honey and butter.” (20:17)

Zophar represented the godless man as deriving no benefit from his labors. The gain from his work he would have to give back. It would be like “food” that he would not be able to swallow for nourishment. From the “strength,” or the derived profit, of engaging in trade, the lawless man would not get any enjoyment. According to the Septuagint, his toiling for wealth would be to no purpose and in vain. He would “taste” nothing from it. There would be nothing of gain for him. What there would be for him is described as “tough,” “unchewable,” and something that cannot be swallowed. (20:18)

Regarding the reason for the punitive judgment to come upon the lawless man, Zophar spoke of him as crushing and abandoning the poor, oppressing them and leaving them without anything. The Septuagint refers to him as crushing the “houses of many powerless ones” or the lowly ones who had no one to help them. This suggests that he destroyed their humble dwellings and then made use of the land for his own purpose. Either through fraudulent or violent means, the impious man would seize a house that he himself had not built. (20:19)

That the godless man would not know “ease” or quietness in his belly could indicate that his greed would never leave him satisfied. He always would be consumed with the desire to acquire more by whatever means possible. His “delights” or desirable things could designate all that he acquired but which, in the end, would not enable him to “slip away” or escape calamity. The Hebrew text is somewhat obscure, and this accounts for various interpretive renderings. “They knew no quiet in their bellies; in their greed they let nothing escape.” (NRSV) “Surely he will have no respite from his craving; he cannot save himself by his treasure.” (NIV) “Since his avarice could never be satisfied, now all his hoarding will not save him.” (NJB) “Because his appetite gave him no rest, he let nothing he craved escape him.” (REB) (20:20; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

After the corrupt man had “eaten” or consumed what he had seized, there would be nothing left. His ravages would leave only devastation. Therefore, his goods or his prosperity would not “be firm” or last. According to the Septuagint rendering, “his goods will not flourish.” (20:21; see the Notes section.)

“In the fullness of his sufficiency,” or at the time the godless man had attained the peak of his prosperity (“but when he would suppose already to be filled” or “satisfied” [LXX]), he would come to be in distress (“will be afflicted” [LXX]). “All the force” (literally, “hand”) of misery, or the force that a “sufferer” experiences (“every distress” [LXX]), would come upon him. (20:22)

Zophar appears to have referred to what God will do to the corrupt man when his “belly” has been filled or when he is enjoying prosperity. God will then “send into him his burning” or fierce “anger,” causing it to come upon him like “rain” or a downpour “into his bowels.” (20:23; see the Notes section.)

When referring to what awaited the godless man, Zophar indicated that something worse would befall him upon his taking flight from danger. “He will flee from a weapon of iron.” A “copper” or “bronze bow will pass through him.” The “copper bow” may designate a wooden bow that was mounted with copper or bronze. It would be the arrow from this bow that would strike the wicked man. The Septuagint says that he will “by no means” be delivered from the “hand” or power “of iron” (an iron weapon). It concludes with the words, “May a copper” or “bronze bow wound him.” (20:24; see the Notes section.)

The extant Hebrew text does not identify what is “drawn out” and “comes out” from the back of the corrupt man. Based on the rendering of the Septuagint, the reference is to an “arrow.” “May an arrow pass through his body.” “Lightning” coming out of “his gall” could indicate that a gleaming arrowhead would penetrate his gallbladder. The Septuagint says, “May lightnings go about in his habitations.” The concluding phrase of the Hebrew text is, “Upon him [be] terrors.” These words were not found in the Septuagint available to Origen in the third century CE, but he added them from the version of Theodotion and marked the addition accordingly. (20:25)

“All” or complete “darkness” is “hidden” for the “treasures” of the corrupt man. This suggests that his riches would be lost to him as if swallowed up by the darkness that had been reserved for them (as if this future darkness had been concealed while the treasures were being accumulated). The Septuagint rendering is, “But may all” or complete “darkness await him.” (20:26)

“Fire” that is “not blown upon will devour” the godless man, “will consume what remains in his tent” or his dwelling. This would leave no one and no item behind of all that had belonged to him. In being described as “fire” that is “not blown upon,” it could apply to a thunderbolt. The Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the extant Hebrew text. “Unquenchable fire will devour him. May a foreigner do evil to his house,” depriving him of everything that had belonged to him. (20:26)

According to Zophar, heaven and earth would bear witness against the lawless man, exposing his wrongdoing. The “heavens will reveal his iniquity, and the earth will rise up against him.” (20:27)

The extant Hebrew text indicates that the “increase” of the godless man’s “house will roll away” or “depart.” This could mean that all the possessions he had obtained would be lost to him. A number of translations, however, do not render the verse according to the vowel pointing of the Masoretic Text. Instead of using a word for “increase,” “produce,” “yield,” or “possessions,” they have chosen the term “flood.” “A flood will carry off his house, rushing waters on the day of God’s wrath.” (NIV) “The flood shall sweep away his house with the waters that run off in the day of God’s anger.” (NAB) The Septuagint provides a measure of support for a rendering that points to the destruction of the house as by a flood. “May destruction pull his house to [its] end.” In the Hebrew text, the concluding phrase is, “flowing away in the day of his wrath.” Translators often have been specific in identifying this to be the wrath of God. (20:28)

Zophar concluded that the calamities to which he had referred were the “portion of a “wicked man” or an “impious man” (LXX) “from God” (the “Lord” [LXX]) and the inheritance of his word from God.” This “inheritance” may be understood to be the appointed allotment that God had decreed for the corrupt man. As the “word” that expressed what this “inheritance” would be for the lawless one, it is called “his word.” The Septuagint refers to this inheritance as the “possession” appointed “to him” from the “overseer” — from God the one who would be watching him. By his words, Zophar implied that what had befallen Job was God’s judgment against an impious man. (20:29)


Origen, in the third century CE, used the words from the version of Theodotion for the phrases in verse 3. This is because he did not find them in the text of the Septuagint available to him. The text reads, “I will hear discipline of my shame” (instruction or correction that is intended to shame me), and a spirit from understanding answers me.” This could mean that Zophar here designated the words of Job as being far from a “spirit of understanding” or insight. Another possible significance could be that a spirit from Zophar’s understanding prompted him to answer.

The initial phrase of verse 4 was not found in the Septuagint available to Origen in the third century CE. He added it from the version of Theodotion and marked it accordingly. With the supplied words, the Greek text may be rendered, “Have you not known these things from before now — not since man was placed upon the earth?”

There is uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew word si’ (verse 6). Suggested meanings include “loftiness,” “excellency,” and “pride.”

In the third century CE, Origen did not find the words of verse 11 in the Septuagint available to him. He added them from the version of Theodotion and marked the addition accordingly. The added text reads, “His bones were filled with [the strength of] youth, and it will lie down with him upon a burial mound.”

Origen did not find the words of verse 12 in the Septuagint available to him in the third century CE. He used the text from the version of Theodotion and marked the addition accordingly. This Greek rendering is basically the same as the extant Hebrew text.

In verse 14, the Septuagint rendering departs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. Regarding the godless man, it says that he “will by no means be able to help himself.” The rendering “by no means” conveys the emphatic sense that is expressed with two Greek words for “not.” The concluding phrase of verse 14 was not found in the Septuagint available to Origen in the third century CE. He marked the words as having been added from the version of Theodotion (“gall of an asp in his belly” or “stomach”). The added words, however, do not logically follow the initial phrase of the Septuagint text.

Verse 16 illustrates that caution is in order when quoting from the book of Job. The speeches of Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu were not divinely inspired. Therefore, one should not read into the poetic language an understanding of the natural world that far transcended the knowledge of the ancients. Instead, one should expect to find expressions that reflect erroneous views regarding the natural world. Verse 16 is a case in point. The venom of a serpent is not injected into its prey through the tongue but through the fangs.

The initial phrase of verse 20 in the Septuagint could be understood to indicate that, for the godless man, there was no deliverance or security from possessions. Origen, in the third century CE, used the version of Theodotion for the concluding part of the verse and marked the added words accordingly. This part was not found in the Septuagint available to him. It reads, “In his desire, he will not escape” or he will not be delivered.

The opening phrase of verse 21 was not found in the Septuagint available to Origen in the third century CE. He marked it has having been added from the version of Theodotion. The added phrase may be translated, “There is nothing remaining of his food” or “provisions.”

In verse 23, the thought about filling “his belly” was not found in the Septuagint available to Origen in the third century CE. He added it from the version of Theodotion (“if by some means he would fill his belly”) and marked the addition accordingly. The Septuagint text that follows may be rendered, “May he [God] send upon him the fury of wrath. May he pour pains upon him.”

In verse 24, the rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of two Greek words for “not.”