Here’s a rough translation of Job 20, with comments.
As background, during our Level 4 lockdown last year I tried to lock down some reading to hold on to my Hebrew. You can see them here (helpful insights are thanks to God: typos and mistranslations wholly my fault): 1:1-5 | 1:6-12 | 1:13-22 | 2:1-6 | 2:7-13 | 3:1-10 | 3:11-26 | 4 | 5:1-7 | 5:8-27 | 6 | 7 | 8:1-7 | 8:8-22 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13:1-16 | 13:17-14:22 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 |
20:1 And Zophar the Naamatite answered, and he said:
2 “To thus my disquieting thoughts prompt me to return;
Because of my haste within me,
3 [If] a censure of disgrace to me I hear,
And my spirit from my understanding answers me.”
4 “Do you not know this from old?
From the setting of humanity on the earth,
5 That the rejoicing of the wicked is short (lit: from close);
And the joy of the godless lasts a moment.
6 If his pride ascends to the heavens;
And his head to the clouds touches,
7 Like his dung, forever he will perish;
Those who have seen him will say, “Where is he?”
8 Like a dream he will fly away and they will not find him;
And he will dissipate like a vision of the night.
9 The eye has seen him but will not again;
and no longer will it behold him — his place.”
The last bit sounds a bit awkward – the ESV, LXX takes “his place” as the subject (i.e. his place will no longer behold him), but the word for “behold” is feminine so agrees with “the eye”).
10 “His sons will seek the favour of the poor,
And his hands return his strength.
11 His bones are full of his youth,
But with him in the dust they lie down.”
In Zophar’s worldview, the wicked will perish and receive what they deserve.
12 “If evil is sweet in his mouth,
And he hides it under his tongue,
13 If he loathes over it and does not forsake it,
but withholds it in his mouth,
14 His food in his stomach is turned,
[becoming] the venom (lit: bitterness) of adders within him.
15 Riches he has swallowed, but he vomits it;
From his belly God will make him throw it out.
16 The poison of adders he sucks, it slays him — the tongue of a viper!
17 He will not look on the streams,
The rivers of the torrents of honey and butter.
18 He returns the gain and does not swallow [it for himself]; as the wealth of his trading he will not enjoy.
Notice the cluster of eating and food-related terms, and possible allusions to the temptation account in Genesis 3 with the mention of snakes and poison. In Zophar’s view, wicked and greedy people get their “just desserts”: they love the taste of evil in their mouths (v13) and swallow up riches (v15), only to discover it’s poison.
19 For he has crushed and forsaken the poor;
He has seized a house yet he did not build it.
A touch tone-deaf — Job is listening and he has just been crushed, forsaken and left homeless!
20 For he does not know contentment in his belly,
(In) what he delights, he does not let escape.
21 Nothing survives for his eating,
That is why his prosperity doesn’t last (lit: his goodness does not prosper).
22 In the fullness of his abundance, [distress] binds him;
Every hand of trouble comes on him.
23 When he is filling his belly, it stretches out on him: the anger of His wrath;
And it rains down upon his flesh.
24 When he flees from a weapon of iron,
It pierces him, a bow of bronze.
25 When he draws it out of his body
and the lightning [point] from his liver [lit: bitter thing],
it comes upon him — terrors!
More bitterness language here and in verse 14 – Job and his friends have dropped this word in throughout (see 3:20, 7:11, 9:18, 20:14), but have different views of who gets bitterness in life.
26 All darkness waits for his hidden [things],
a fire will consume him that has not been breathed;
It will do evil with whatever survives his tent.
27The heavens will reveal his iniquity,
and earth rises up against him.
28 It will be revealed, the possessions of his house;
Flowing off in the day of his wrath.
29 This is the portion of wicked humanity from God,
And the heritage of his decree from God.
Zophar is so sure (v27) that the wicked will be consumed by God. He never directly accuses Job of being a wicked person in this chapter (he uses 3rd person other than in verse 4), but the inference is clear: Job should not feel safe because of his sufferings. Yet in the end, God will vindicate Job, not Zophar.