Chapter 20:1-19 (ESV) - Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said:
“Therefore my thoughts answer me,
because of my haste within me.
I hear censure that insults me,
and out of my understanding a spirit answers me.
Do you not know this from of old,
since man was placed on earth,
that the exulting of the wicked is short,
and the joy of the godless but for a moment?
Though his height mount up to the heavens,
and his head reach to the clouds,
he will perish forever like his own dung;
those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
He will fly away like a dream and not be found;
he will be chased away like a vision of the night.
The eye that saw him will see him no more,
nor will his place any more behold him.
His children will seek the favor of the poor,
and his hands will give back his wealth.
His bones are full of his youthful vigor,
but it will lie down with him in the dust.
“Though evil is sweet in his mouth,
though he hides it under his tongue,
though he is loath to let it go
and holds it in his mouth,
yet his food is turned in his stomach;
it is the venom of cobras within him.
He swallows down riches and vomits them up again;
God casts them out of his belly.
He will suck the poison of cobras;
the tongue of a viper will kill him.
He will not look upon the rivers,
the streams flowing with honey and curds.
He will give back the fruit of his toil
and will not swallow it down;
from the profit of his trading
he will get no enjoyment.
For he has crushed and abandoned the poor;
he has seized a house that he did not build.
Question to consider: Can you give an example of someone who has experienced prosperity their whole life even though they got it by wicked means?
Rather than think deeply about the words from Job concerning the way they have been mistreating him and saying false things against him, Zophar immediately became insulted and responded according to his understanding. He reiterated that since the beginning of time when man was placed on the earth, the prosperity of the wicked has always been temporary. Thus, he continued to cling to the idea that Job’s brief prosperity and subsequent calamity were proof that Job must be wicked even though he had nothing with which to directly accuse him.
The image of the wicked seeking to become higher than the heavens and then being scattered like a dream is reminiscent of the Genesis account of the people of Babel in the land of Shinar who tried to build a tower to heaven which ended up being thrown down and scattered by God. Zophar seemed to extrapolate this into a universal principle that God causes all who are wicked to be similarly thrown down and have so little that their children were begging from poor people. Even though they may be young in body, Zophar believed that God sent the wicked to an early grave.
The reason Zophar gives for this is that while evil may taste sweet, it is poison to the body. While a man may get wealthy from crushing the poor and seizing their property, they receive no enjoyment from their prosperity, and all of their plans are doomed to fail.
Today, we say that people have confirmation bias if they only consider information that supports their understanding of the world. Rather than listening to his friend, Zophar could only see Job’s calamity as God’s response to some kind of wickedness. From Zophar’s understanding of the world, Job must have done something to deserve it so he felt justified in calling him evil without ever having witnessed Job doing anything wrong.
Throughout history, we’ve seen people who have lived full, long, and prosperous lives without any earthly consequences for their wickedness. However, as Christ preached to the crowds, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
Dear heavenly father, thank You for leading us to repentance and righteousness in Christ rather than being caught up in the snares of worldly prosperity. Help us to be good stewards of the resources You have given us so that we may spend our time here lifting up the name of Christ. Amen.