Job 20

Zophar’s Second Speech

Zophar breaks in with an impassioned argument about the brevity and prosperity of the life of the wicked. But every statement that he makes is completely irrelevant to the case at hand. The speech has four sections: after a short preface (2–3) he portrays the brevity of the triumph of the wicked (4–11), retribution for sin (12–22), and God’s swift judgment (23–29). See further B. H. Kelly, “Truth in Contradiction, A Study of Job 20 and 21, ” Int 15 (1961): 147-56.
Then Zophar the Naamathite answered:

“This is why
The ordinary meaning of לָכֵן (lakhen) is “therefore,” coming after an argument. But at the beginning of a speech it is an allusion to what follows.
my troubled thoughts bring me back
The verb is שׁוּב (shuv, “to return”), but in the Hiphil, “bring me back,” i.e., prompt me to make another speech. The text makes good sense as it is, and there is no reason to change the reading to make a closer parallel with the second half – indeed, the second part explains the first.

because of my feelings
The word is normally taken from the root “to hasten,” and rendered “because of my haste within me.” But K&D 11:374 proposed another root, and similarly, but closer to the text, E. Dhorme (Job, 289–90) found an Arabic word with the meaning “feeling, sensation.” He argues that from this idea developed the meanings in the cognates of “thoughts” as well. Similarly, Gordis translates it “my feeling pain.” See also Eccl 2:25.
within me.
There is no indication that this clause is to be subordinated to the next, other than the logical connection, and the use of the ו (vav) in the second half.
I hear a reproof that dishonors me,
then my understanding
The phrase actually has רוּחַ מִבִּינָתִי (ruakh mibbinati, “a spirit/wind/breath/impulse from my understanding”). Some translate it “out of my understanding a spirit answers me.” The idea is not that difficult, and so the many proposals to rewrite the text can be rejected. The spirit of his understanding prompts the reply.
prompts me to answer.
To take this verb as a simple Qal and read it “answers me,” does not provide a clear idea. The form can just as easily be taken as a Hiphil, with the sense “causes me to answer.” It is Zophar who will “return” and who will “answer.”

“Surely you know
The MT has “Do you not know?” The question can be interpreted as a rhetorical question affirming that Job must know this. The question serves to express the conviction that the contents are well-known to the audience (see GKC 474 #150.e).
that it has been from old,
ever since humankind was placed
Heb “from the putting of man on earth.” The infinitive is the object of the preposition, which is here temporal. If “man” is taken as the subjective genitive, then the verb would be given a passive translation. Here “man” is a generic, referring to “mankind” or “the human race.”
on the earth,
that the elation of the wicked is brief,
The expression in the text is “quite near.” This indicates that it is easily attained, and that its end is near.

the joy of the godless
For the discussion of חָנֵף (khanef, “godless”) see Job 8:13.
lasts but a moment.
The phrase is “until a moment,” meaning it is short-lived. But see J. Barr, “Hebrew ’ad, especially at Job 1:18 and Neh 7:3, ” JSS 27 (1982): 177-88.

Even though his stature
The word שִׂיא (si’) has been connected with the verb נָשָׂא (nasa’, “to lift up”), and so interpreted here as “pride.” The form is parallel to “head” in the next part, and so here it refers to his stature, the part that rises up and is crowned. But the verse does describe the pride of such a person, with his head in the heavens.
reaches to the heavens
and his head touches the clouds,
he will perish forever, like his own excrement;
There have been attempts to change the word here to “like a whirlwind,” or something similar. But many argue that there is no reason to remove a coarse expression from Zophar.

those who used to see him will say, ‘Where is he?’
Like a dream he flies away, never again to be found,
Heb “and they do not find him.” The verb has no expressed subject, and so here is equivalent to a passive. The clause itself is taken adverbially in the sentence.

and like a vision of the night he is put to flight.
Heb “the eye that had seen him.” Here a part of the person (the eye, the instrument of vision) is put by metonymy for the entire person.
who had seen him will not see him again,
and the place where he was
will recognize him no longer.
10  His sons must recompense
The early versions confused the root of this verb, taking it from רָצַץ (ratsats, “mistreat”) and not from רָצָה (ratsah, “be please with”). So it was taken to mean, “Let inferiors destroy his children.” But the verb is רָצָה (ratsah). This has been taken to mean “his sons will seek the favor of the poor.” This would mean that they would be reduced to poverty and need help from even the poor. Some commentators see this as another root רָצָה (ratsah) meaning “to compensate; to restore” wealth their father had gained by impoverishing others. This fits the parallelism well, but not the whole context that well.
the poor;
his own hands
Some commentators are surprised to see “his hands” here, thinking the passage talks about his death. Budde changed it to “his children,” by altering one letter. R. Gordis argued that “hand” can mean offspring, and so translated it that way without changing anything in the text (“A note on YAD,” JBL 62 [1943]: 343).
must return his wealth.
11  His bones
“Bones” is often used metonymically for the whole person, the bones being the framework, meaning everything inside, as well as the body itself.
were full of his youthful vigor,
This line means that he dies prematurely – at the height of his youthful vigor.

but that vigor will lie down with him in the dust.
12  “If
The conjunction אִם (’im) introduces clauses that are conditional or concessive. With the imperfect verb in the protasis it indicates what is possible in the present or future. See GKC 496 #159.q).
evil is sweet in his mouth
and he hides it under his tongue,
The wicked person holds on to evil as long as he can, savoring the taste or the pleasure of it.

13  if he retains it for himself
and does not let it go,
and holds it fast in his mouth,
Heb “in the middle of his palate.”

14  his food is turned sour
The perfect verb in the apodosis might express the suddenness of the change (see S. R. Driver, Tenses in Hebrew, 204), or it might be a constative perfect looking at the action as a whole without reference to inception, progress, or completion (see IBHS 480–81 #30.1d). The Niphal perfect simply means “is turned” or “turns”; “sour is supplied in the translation to clarify what is meant.
in his stomach;
The word is “in his loins” or “within him.” Some translate more specifically “bowels.”

it becomes the venom of serpents
Some commentators suggest that the ancients believed that serpents secreted poison in the gall bladder, or that the poison came from the gall bladder of serpents. In any case, there is poison (from the root “bitter”) in the system of the wicked person; it may simply be saying it is that type of poison.
within him.
15  The wealth that he consumed
Heb “swallowed.”
he vomits up,
God will make him throw it out
The choice of words is excellent. The verb יָרַשׁ (yarash) means either “to inherit” or “to disinherit; to dispossess.” The context makes the figure clear that God is administering the emetic to make the wicked throw up the wealth (thus, “God will make him throw it out…”); but since wealth is the subject there is a disinheritance meant here.
of his stomach.
16  He sucks the poison
The word is a homonym for the word for “head,” which has led to some confusion in the early versions.
of serpents;
To take the possessions of another person is hereby compared to sucking poison from a serpent – it will kill eventually.

the fangs
Heb “tongue.”
of a viper
Some have thought this verse is a gloss on v. 14 and should be deleted. But the word for “viper” (אֶפְעֶה, ’efeh) is a rare word, occurring only here and in Isa 30:6 and 59:5. It is unlikely that a rarer word would be used in a gloss. But the point is similar to v. 14 – the wealth that was greedily sucked in by the wicked proves to be their undoing. Either this is totally irrelevant to Job’s case, a general discussion, or the man is raising questions about how Job got his wealth.
kill him.
17  He will not look on the streams,
The word פְּלַגּוֹת (pelaggot) simply means “streams” or “channels.” Because the word is used elsewhere for “streams of oil” (cf. 29:6), and that makes a good parallelism here, some supply “oil” (cf. NAB, NLT). But the second colon of the verse is probably in apposition to the first. The verb “see” followed by the preposition bet, “to look on; to look over,” means “to enjoy as a possession,” an activity of the victor.

the rivers, which are the torrents
The construct nouns here have caused a certain amount of revision. It says “rivers of, torrents of.” The first has been emended by Klostermann to יִצְהָר (yitshar, “oil”) and connected to the first colon. Older editors argued for a נָהָר (nahar) that meant “oil” but that was not convincing. On the other hand, there is support for having more than one construct together serving as apposition (see GKC 422 #130.e). If the word “streams” in the last colon is a construct, that would mean three of them; but that one need not be construct. The reading would be “He will not see the streams, [that is] the rivers [which are] the torrents of honey and butter.” It is unusual, but workable.

of honey and butter.
This word is often translated “curds.” It is curdled milk, possibly a type of butter.

18  He gives back the ill-gotten gain
The idea is the fruit of his evil work. The word יָגָע (yaga’) occurs only here; it must mean ill-gotten gains. The verb is in 10:3.

without assimilating it;
Heb “and he does not swallow.” In the context this means “consume” for his own pleasure and prosperity. The verbal clause is here taken adverbially.

he will not enjoy the wealth from his commerce.
The expression is “according to the wealth of his exchange.” This means he cannot enjoy whatever he gained in his business deals. Some mss have בּ (bet) preposition, making the translation easier; but this is evidence of a scribal correction.

19  For he has oppressed the poor and abandoned them;
The verb indicates that after he oppressed the poor he abandoned them to their fate. But there have been several attempts to improve on the text. Several have repointed the text to get a word parallel to “house.” Ehrlich came up with עֹזֵב (’ozev, “mud hut”), Kissane had “hovel” (similar to Neh 3:8). M. Dahood did the same (“The Root ’zb II in Job,” JBL 78 [1959]: 306-7). J. Reider came up with עֶזֶב (’ezev, the “leavings”), what the rich were to leave for the poor (“Contributions to the Scriptural text,” HUCA 24 [1952/53]: 103-6). But an additional root עָזַב (’azav) is questionable. And while the text as it stands is general and not very striking, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Dhorme reverses the letters to gain בְּעֹז (beoz, “with force [or violence]”).

he has seized a house which he did not build.
The last clause says, “and he did not build it.” This can be understood in an adverbial sense, supplying the relative pronoun to the translation.

20  For he knows no satisfaction in his appetite;
Heb “belly,” which represents his cravings, his desires and appetites. The “satisfaction” is actually the word for “quiet; peace; calmness; ease.” He was driven by greedy desires, or he felt and displayed an insatiable greed.

he does not let anything he desires
The verb is the passive participle of the verb חָמַד (khamad) which is one of the words for “covet; desire.” This person is controlled by his desires; there is no escape. He is a slave.
The verb is difficult to translate in this line. It basically means “to cause to escape; to rescue.” Some translate this verb as “it is impossible to escape”; this may work, but is uncertain. Others translate the verb in the sense of saving something else: N. Sarna says, “Of his most cherished possessions he shall save nothing” (“The Interchange of the Preposition bet and min in Biblical Hebrew,” JBL 78 [1959]: 315-16). The RSV has “he will save nothing in which he delights”; NIV has “he cannot save himself by his treasure.”

21  “Nothing is left for him to devour;
Heb “for his eating,” which is frequently rendered “for his gluttony.” It refers, of course, to all the desires he has to take things from other people.

that is why his prosperity does not last.
The point throughout is that insatiable greed and ruthless plundering to satisfy it will be recompensed with utter and complete loss.

22  In the fullness of his sufficiency,
The word שָׂפַק (safaq) occurs only here; it means “sufficiency; wealth; abundance (see D. W. Thomas, “The Text of Jesaia 2:6 and the Word sapaq, ZAW 75 [1963]: 88-90).

Heb “there is straightness for him.” The root צָרַר (tsarar) means “to be narrowed in straits, to be in a bind.” The word here would have the idea of pressure, stress, trouble. One could say he is in a bind.
overtakes him.
the full force of misery will come upon him.
Heb “every hand of trouble comes to him.” The pointing of עָמֵל (’amel) indicates it would refer to one who brings trouble; LXX and Latin read an abstract noun עָמָל (’amal, “trouble”) here.

23  “While he is
D. J. A. Clines observes that to do justice to the three jussives in the verse, one would have to translate “May it be, to fill his belly to the full, that God should send…and rain” (Job [WBC], 477). The jussive form of the verb at the beginning of the verse could also simply introduce a protasis of a conditional clause (see GKC 323 #109.h, i). This would mean, “if he [God] is about to fill his [the wicked’s] belly to the full, he will send….” The NIV reads “when he has filled his belly.” These fit better, because the context is talking about the wicked in his evil pursuit being cut down.
filling his belly,
“God” is understood as the subject of the judgment.
sends his burning anger
Heb “the anger of his wrath.”
against him,
and rains down his blows upon him.
Heb “rain down upon him, on his flesh.” Dhorme changes עָלֵימוֹ (’alemo, “upon him”) to “his arrows”; he translates the line as “he rains his arrows upon his flesh.” The word בִּלְחוּמוֹ (bilkhumo,“his flesh”) has been given a wide variety of translations: “as his food,” “on his flesh,” “upon him, his anger,” or “missiles or weapons of war.”

24  If he flees from an iron weapon,
then an arrow
Heb “a bronze bow pierces him.” The words “an arrow from” are implied and are supplied in the translation; cf. “pulls it out” in the following verse.
from a bronze bow pierces him.
25  When he pulls it out
The MT has “he draws out [or as a passive, “it is drawn out/forth”] and comes [or goes] out of his back.” For the first verb שָׁלַף (shalaf, “pull, draw”), many commentators follow the LXX and use שֶׁלַח (shelakh, “a spear”). It then reads “and a shaft comes out of his back,” a sword flash comes out of his liver.” But the verse could also be a continuation of the preceding.
and it comes out of his back,
the gleaming point
Possibly a reference to lightnings.
out of his liver,
terrors come over him.
26  Total darkness waits to receive his treasures;
Heb “all darkness is hidden for his laid up things.” “All darkness” refers to the misfortunes and afflictions that await. The verb “hidden” means “is destined for.”

a fire which has not been kindled
Heb “not blown upon,” i.e., not kindled by man. But G. R. Driver reads “unquenched” (“Hebrew notes on the ‘Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach’,” JBL 53 [1934]: 289).

will consume him
and devour what is left in his tent.
27  The heavens reveal his iniquity;
the earth rises up against him.
28  A flood will carry off his house,
rushing waters on the day of God’s wrath.
29  Such is the lot God allots the wicked,
and the heritage of his appointment
For the word אִמְרוֹ (’imro) some propose reading “his appointment,” and the others, “his word.” Driver shows that “the heritage of his appointment” means “his appointed heritage” (see GKC 440 #135.n).
from God.”
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