“I hear censure that insults me, and out of my understanding a spirit answers me…” - Job 20:3
Zophar has some sharp words for Job at the opening of today’s reading, in response to Job’s complaints that everyone – his relatives, his friends, and God – has failed him. Try to picture Zophar’s posture, as you would an actor on stage, when he tells Job, “You’ve insulted me…”
Job’s response pushes in a deeper, darker direction, and his burgeoning argument hits a crescendo in chapter 23. Giving full voice to the lament within him, he asks: “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their offspring are established in their presence, and their descendants before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them.” Furthermore, “They say to God, ‘Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways…’”
Feel Job’s torment in these chapters. He is no longer concerned with justifying himself to his friends, asking rhetorically, “is my complaint against man?” ‘No,’ we hear. It is against God; it is against the injustice that Job has witnessed from both directions – he suffers, while the wicked prosper. This is what Job wants his friends to wrap their heads around – and so we’re forced to wrestle with it, too.
At this point, it might feel like we’ve walked far enough into the dark woods and now it’s time to turn back. For some time we’ve come upon no fresh water, no clearing has materialized, and the crest of each hill just presents even darker valleys. The forest is getting thicker, and the hour is getting late. It feels like if we go much further, we will not be able to find our way back to the safety of camp.
But we can, and should, keep walking with Job, for he cannot turn back. The story drives further, relentlessly, toward an unknown destination. Our trust is that the payoff, whatever it is, will be worth it.
Our verse for this week is Luke 16:13: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Job 20 through 24. Now let’s read it!
Job 20 - 24
20:1 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.
“Because he knew no contentment in his belly,
he will not let anything in which he delights escape him.
There was nothing left after he had eaten;
therefore his prosperity will not endure.
In the fullness of his sufficiency he will be in distress;
the hand of everyone in misery will come against him.
To fill his belly to the full,
God will send his burning anger against him
and rain it upon him into his body.
He will flee from an iron weapon;
a bronze arrow will strike him through.
It is drawn forth and comes out of his body;
the glittering point comes out of his gallbladder;
terrors come upon him.
Utter darkness is laid up for his treasures;
a fire not fanned will devour him;
what is left in his tent will be consumed.
The heavens will reveal his iniquity,
and the earth will rise up against him.
The possessions of his house will be carried away,
dragged off in the day of God's wrath.
This is the wicked man's portion from God,
the heritage decreed for him by God.”
21:1 Then Job answered and said:
“Keep listening to my words,
and let this be your comfort.
Bear with me, and I will speak,
and after I have spoken, mock on.
As for me, is my complaint against man?
Why should I not be impatient?
Look at me and be appalled,
and lay your hand over your mouth.
When I remember, I am dismayed,
and shuddering seizes my flesh.
Why do the wicked live,
reach old age, and grow mighty in power?
Their offspring are established in their presence,
and their descendants before their eyes.
Their houses are safe from fear,
and no rod of God is upon them.
Their bull breeds without fail;
their cow calves and does not miscarry.
They send out their little boys like a flock,
and their children dance.
They sing to the tambourine and the lyre
and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.
They spend their days in prosperity,
and in peace they go down to Sheol.
They say to God, ‘Depart from us!
We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?
And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’
Behold, is not their prosperity in their hand?
The counsel of the wicked is far from me.
“How often is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out?
That their calamity comes upon them?
That God distributes pains in his anger?
That they are like straw before the wind,
and like chaff that the storm carries away?
You say, ‘God stores up their iniquity for their children.’
Let him pay it out to them, that they may know it.
Let their own eyes see their destruction,
and let them drink of the wrath of the Almighty.
For what do they care for their houses after them,
when the number of their months is cut off?
Will any teach God knowledge,
seeing that he judges those who are on high?
One dies in his full vigor,
being wholly at ease and secure,
his pails full of milk
and the marrow of his bones moist.
Another dies in bitterness of soul,
never having tasted of prosperity.
They lie down alike in the dust,
and the worms cover them.
“Behold, I know your thoughts
and your schemes to wrong me.
For you say, ‘Where is the house of the prince?
Where is the tent in which the wicked lived?’
Have you not asked those who travel the roads,
and do you not accept their testimony
that the evil man is spared in the day of calamity,
that he is rescued in the day of wrath?
Who declares his way to his face,
and who repays him for what he has done?
When he is carried to the grave,
watch is kept over his tomb.
The clods of the valley are sweet to him;
all mankind follows after him,
and those who go before him are innumerable.
How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?
There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”
22:1 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:
“Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you
and enters into judgment with you?
Is not your evil abundant?
There is no end to your iniquities.
For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing
and stripped the naked of their clothing.
You have given no water to the weary to drink,
and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
The man with power possessed the land,
and the favored man lived in it.
You have sent widows away empty,
and the arms of the fatherless were crushed.
Therefore snares are all around you,
and sudden terror overwhelms you,
or darkness, so that you cannot see,
and a flood of water covers you.
“Is not God high in the heavens?
See the highest stars, how lofty they are!
But you say, ‘What does God know?
Can he judge through the deep darkness?
Thick clouds veil him, so that he does not see,
and he walks on the vault of heaven.’
Will you keep to the old way
that wicked men have trod?
They were snatched away before their time;
their foundation was washed away.
They said to God, ‘Depart from us,’
and ‘What can the Almighty do to us?’
Yet he filled their houses with good things—
but the counsel of the wicked is far from me.
The righteous see it and are glad;
the innocent one mocks at them,
saying, ‘Surely our adversaries are cut off,
and what they left the fire has consumed.’
“Agree with God, and be at peace;
thereby good will come to you.
Receive instruction from his mouth,
and lay up his words in your heart.
If you return to the Almighty you will be built up;
if you remove injustice far from your tents,
if you lay gold in the dust,
and gold of Ophir among the stones of the torrent-bed,
then the Almighty will be your gold
and your precious silver.
For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty
and lift up your face to God.
You will make your prayer to him, and he will hear you,
and you will pay your vows.
You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you,
and light will shine on your ways.
For when they are humbled you say, ‘It is because of pride’;
but he saves the lowly.
He delivers even the one who is not innocent,
who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.”
23:1 Then Job answered and said:
“Today also my complaint is bitter;
my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; he would pay attention to me.
There an upright man could argue with him,
and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.
“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
nor because thick darkness covers my face.
24:1 “Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty,
and why do those who know him never see his days?
Some move landmarks;
they seize flocks and pasture them.
They drive away the donkey of the fatherless;
they take the widow's ox for a pledge.
They thrust the poor off the road;
the poor of the earth all hide themselves.
Behold, like wild donkeys in the desert
the poor go out to their toil, seeking game;
the wasteland yields food for their children.
They gather their fodder in the field,
and they glean the vineyard of the wicked man.
They lie all night naked, without clothing,
and have no covering in the cold.
They are wet with the rain of the mountains
and cling to the rock for lack of shelter.
(There are those who snatch the fatherless child from the breast,
and they take a pledge against the poor.)
They go about naked, without clothing;
hungry, they carry the sheaves;
among the olive rows of the wicked they make oil;
they tread the winepresses, but suffer thirst.
From out of the city the dying groan,
and the soul of the wounded cries for help;
yet God charges no one with wrong.
“There are those who rebel against the light,
who are not acquainted with its ways,
and do not stay in its paths.
The murderer rises before it is light,
that he may kill the poor and needy,
and in the night he is like a thief.
The eye of the adulterer also waits for the twilight,
saying, ‘No eye will see me’;
and he veils his face.
In the dark they dig through houses;
by day they shut themselves up;
they do not know the light.
For deep darkness is morning to all of them;
for they are friends with the terrors of deep darkness.
“You say, ‘Swift are they on the face of the waters;
their portion is cursed in the land;
no treader turns toward their vineyards.
Drought and heat snatch away the snow waters;
so does Sheol those who have sinned.
The womb forgets them;
the worm finds them sweet;
they are no longer remembered,
so wickedness is broken like a tree.’
“They wrong the barren, childless woman,
and do no good to the widow.
Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power;
they rise up when they despair of life.
He gives them security, and they are supported,
and his eyes are upon their ways.
They are exalted a little while, and then are gone;
they are brought low and gathered up like all others;
they are cut off like the heads of grain.
If it is not so, who will prove me a liar
and show that there is nothing in what I say?”