Today: [Job Twenty] Was Job Wrong to Answer His Friends? In this chapter we see Zophar speaking again against Job. He strengthens his criticism of Job and insists that Job is wicked and is paying even for misdeeds from his youth. Have you ever had someone bring up your past and speak against you because of things that happened long ago? For chapter after chapter Job is defending himself and begging for mercy from his so-called friends. Should Job simply have been quiet? What can we learn from Job’s inability to refrain from bickering with his three friends and how will it help us when we are in the same position?
[Job 20:1-29 KJV] 1 Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said, 2 Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer, and for [this] I make haste. 3 I have heard the check of my reproach, and the spirit of my understanding causeth me to answer. 4 Knowest thou [not] this of old, since man was placed upon earth, 5 That the triumphing of the wicked [is] short, and the joy of the hypocrite [but] for a moment? 6 Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; 7 [Yet] he shall perish for ever like his own dung: they which have seen him shall say, Where [is] he? 8 He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found: yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night. 9 The eye also [which] saw him shall [see him] no more; neither shall his place any more behold him. 10 His children shall seek to please the poor, and his hands shall restore their goods.
In this chapter after Job begs for mercy from his friends, Zophar answers. He shows no pity to Job but accuses him of hypocrisy and describes him as human excrement who will be flushed away like his own dung. We read of such things and can’t imagine this comes from a man who took time out of his life to come and sit with Job for days while he mourns his loss and suffers through such a brutal trial.
As Zophar begins to speak he waxes eloquent describing how the “spirit of understanding” stirs within him because Job has dared to stem the tide of words that have been heaped upon him by his comforters. He draws on the authority of antiquity saying that his wisdom comes from ancient times and suggests that Job is not exempt from the fate of other famous hypocrites. He summarizes Job’s previous prosperity and blessing as just the example of how wicked people have joy for a season and then in short order are destroyed.
The reasoning of Zophar is so common when onlookers watch someone in their social circle go through suffering. Make it your determination not to be this person. We see someone face a brutal trial and if we think they brought it on themselves in some way we cluck our tongues and commend ourselves for having the wisdom to realize they had it coming. At times it is very difficult for the gentlest among us not to come to these kind of conclusions but to do so is at our own peril.
Zophar goes on to suggest that Job’s prosperity was only because he oppressed the poor and robbed them of their resources. He predicts that Job’s children (now dead so Zophar is rubbing salt in the wound) will be mercy of the poorest of men and be forced to give back in the afterlife what Job stole from them on earth. The sting of Zophar’s words is difficult to hear yet recorded for us as an example to identify and extract from our own character this kind of bitter judgmentalism.
11 His bones are full [of the sin] of his youth, which shall lie down with him in the dust. 12 Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, [though] he hide it under his tongue; 13 [Though] he spare it, and forsake it not; but keep it still within his mouth: 14 [Yet] his meat in his bowels is turned, [it is] the gall of asps within him. 15 He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again: God shall cast them out of his belly. 16 He shall suck the poison of asps: the viper’s tongue shall slay him. 17 He shall not see the rivers, the floods, the brooks of honey and butter. 18 That which he laboured for shall he restore, and shall not swallow [it] down: according to [his] substance [shall] the restitution [be], and he shall not rejoice [therein]. 19 Because he hath oppressed [and] hath forsaken the poor; [because] he hath violently taken away an house which he builded not; 20 Surely he shall not feel quietness in his belly, he shall not save of that which he desired.
Zophar is apparently a lifelong acquaintance of Job because he brings up instances from Job’s youth and accuses him of only reaping choices he made when he was very young. This is quite common among family members and those who have known us all our lives. Ancient history that we think is dead and buried can gain new life in the mouth of an eloquent critic who is keep to assassinate your character. Job has very little defense from Zophar’s words because no doubt Job like many of us had done things in his youth he might not have been proud of.
Realize this that you cannot change the past. One of the big mistakes that Job has made in this situation is to continue to answer his so called friends. If someone is determined to criticize you they are making several assumptions about you and about themselves that are very unlikely to change:
1. A critic assumes that they are wiser and more spiritual than you are or they would not presume to instruct you. You are unlikely to ever change the mind of someone who feels they are the better person that you.
2. A critic finds pleasure and satisfaction in seeking to expose your error at worst, or to be your instructor at the very least. This is a person who has an insatiable appetite for giving others a piece of their mind, you are very unlikely to dissuade them from this very bad habit.
3. A critic feels obligated to criticize you and diminish you in their eyes, many times speaking out of their own woundedness and insecurity. Railing back at someone with a wounded spirit is like throwing gasoline on a flame – you will only incite them further.
4. A religious critic will often feel obligated and in face called to reveal to you your error. They will positively feel anointed to do so and in fact there is a spirit that attends them and provokes them with great unction to pour out upon you the venom of their curses, criticisms and rebukes. If you engage with them and try to defend yourself you will only be seen by them and by others as fighting against God.
There is a point in every avenue of strife that you should pause and consider the words of Proverbs:
[Proverbs 26:4 KJV] 4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.
When contention comes it often arises out of personal suffering. We are hurting and going through trials and feel incapable of ignoring the unkind words of others who may choose to make their criticisms known. What is it in our lives that makes us answer our critics? Why can’t we simply leave them alone and leave our defense up to God?
[Proverbs 13:10 KJV] 10 Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised [is] wisdom.
The thing on the inside of us that causes us to answer those who rail upon us or subtly and with feigned words seek to manipulate us is PRIDE. You may not feel you are in pride but the word of God discerns us clearly when we enter into contention it is because of pride in our own hearts. The response is often “they started it” or “I have to answer those who are lying against me” but in fact this is the slippery slope of self justification that Job has been completely swallowed by. In answering his critics Job took a horrendous personal trial and exponentially compounded it’s impact upon his life.
21 There shall none of his meat be left; therefore shall no man look for his goods. 22 In the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits: every hand of the wicked shall come upon him. 23 [When] he is about to fill his belly, [God] shall cast the fury of his wrath upon him, and shall rain [it] upon him while he is eating. 24 He shall flee from the iron weapon, [and] the bow of steel shall strike him through. 25 It is drawn, and cometh out of the body; yea, the glittering sword cometh out of his gall: terrors [are] upon him. 26 All darkness [shall be] hid in his secret places: a fire not blown shall consume him; it shall go ill with him that is left in his tabernacle. 27 The heaven shall reveal his iniquity; and the earth shall rise up against him. 28 The increase of his house shall depart, [and his goods] shall flow away in the day of his wrath. 29 This [is] the portion of a wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed unto him by God.
Zophar’s criticisms now become outright curses as he not only gives his commentary on Job’s current suffering but predicts what is coming. He tells Job that what little he has left to him will be lost – even his meager food that is barely at this point sustaining his life. He declares that even the whole of Job’s remaining substance will not be enough to save him from starvation. He goes on to predict that not only the Sabaens who kill his children will return but will bring every wicked hand against him that is available to attack Job and his wife.
He goes on to say this is not some random happenstance but that God Himself will cast the full fury of His wrath upon Job and will rain it down on him while his food is in his mouth. Now can you imagine what is happening as Zophar speaks? Apparently Job, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, covered with painful boils from head to toe is trying to eat a little food to keep up his strength. Zophar sees the food that Job is partaking of and is completely incensed that Job would dare to eat and in fact begrudges him the most meager comforts. Imagine visiting the hospital room of a dying friend and slapping the tray of food from their hands in disgust and anger that they would dare to eat in your presence?
Zophar’s final benediction against Job in this instance is to pronounce the whole of Job’s suffering the judgment of God upon the wicked. Can you imagine the ringing in Job’s ears as he tries to choke down a morsel of bread that his wife might have brought him? Yet for all his suffering and the physical pain he endures he still finds it within himself to react and answer back and defend himself rather than to trust himself to God and look to the Father for deliverance not only from his trial but from these so-called comforters who have spoken so bitterly against him.
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