1 "Then Zophar the Naamathite answered: 2 "Pay attention! My thoughts urge me to answer, because of the agitation within me. 3 I hear censure that insults me, and a spirit beyond my understanding answers me."
A. Zophar appears to be in a highly agitated state. His first word, literally, is "therefore," but translators seek another English word because it would not make sense to begin a speech with "therefore." But, maybe he does. Why would Zophar be so agitated? What is it about what Job has said that "insults" him?
B. Note Zophar's language. What Job says "insults me." He does not say, "insults God." Zophar has claimed to be able to deliver to Job the deep things of God (ch.11) but now he speaks about insults to him. What is going on?
C. Zophar intellectualizes life but then can't seemingly control his emotions (are the two related?). That is, he has told Job that his "doctrine" (NRSV "conduct"--11:4) is wrong. In 20:3 the word translated "censure" is the classic word for "word of instruction." It is as if he sees Job as a classroom teacher, dispassionately describing life and God. But then Zophar speaks of a "spirit beyond my understanding" that gives him insight. Why would a person try to intellectualize Job's words, try to "reduce" them to "instruction" and "doctrine?"
4 "Do you not know this from of old, ever since mortals were placed on earth, 5 that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless is but for a moment? 6 Even though they mount up high as the heavens, and their head reaches to the clouds, 7 they will perish forever like their own dung; those who have seen them will say, 'Where are they?' 8 They will fly away like a dream, and not be found; they will be chased away like a vision of the night. 9 The eye that saw them will see them no more, nor will their place behold them any longer. 10 Their children will seek the favor of the poor, and their hands will give back their wealth. 11 Their bodies, once full of youth, will lie down in the dust with them."
A. This is standard "punishment of the wicked" stuff. Is this theology compatible with yours?
B. We already get a hint that Zophar will be fascinated with bodily functions in v.7 ("their own dung"). What constitutes the reversal for the wicked, in Zophar's mind?
12 "Though wickedness is sweet in their mouth, though they hide it under their tongues, 13 though they are loath to let it go, and hold it in their mouths, 14 yet their food is turned in their stomachs; it is the venom of asps within them. 15 They swallow down riches and vomit them up again; God casts them out of their bellies. 16 They will suck the poison of asps; the tongue of a viper will kill them. 17 They will not look on the rivers, the streams flowing with honey and curds. 18 They will give back the fruit of their toil, and will not swallow it down; from the profit of their trading they will get no enjoyment. 19 For they have crushed and abandoned the poor, they have seized a house that they did not build. 20 "They knew no quiet in their bellies; in their greed they let nothing escape. 21 There was nothing left after they had eaten; therefore their prosperity will not endure. 22 In full sufficiency they will be in distress; all the force of misery will come upon them. 23 To fill their belly to the full God will send his fierce anger into them, and rain it upon them as their food."
A. Here is where the imagery becomes gruesome. List all the instances of Zophar's references to the belly or food. Wickedness may be equated with many things (working injustice, selfishness), but here Zophar speaks of it in food and belly terms. What kind of person speaks this way?
B. Why does the "venom of asps" (v.14) interrupt this gruesome picture? Again, he speaks of the "poison of asps (v.16)." His images seem to clash. On the one hand, if you vomit out something, it usually is a good sign, despite the unpleasantness of the experience. But here the wicked both vomit and have poison within that will kill them. He is painting a truly wretched picture of people, isn't he?
C. He just won't let up on the food metaphors. People will give back the fruit of their toil (v.18), but then the word "fruit" seems to trigger Zophar's food-mania and he says, "and will not swallow it down." Why can't Zophar "stomach," so to speak, the wicked?
D. Finally, when he gets around to talking about the wicked's evil conduct he is pretty standard in his criticism (v.19). In what does that criticism consist? And then, just while you think it is safe to go on reading Zophar, he returns to images of the wicked who "knew no quiet in their bellies (v.20)." What inner disquiet disturbs Zophar?
24 "They will flee from an iron weapon; a bronze arrow will strike them through. 25 It is drawn forth and comes out of their body, and the glittering point comes out of their gall; terrors come upon them. 26 Utter darkness is laid up for their treasures; a fire fanned by no one will devour them; what is left in their tent will be consumed. 27 The heavens will reveal their iniquity, and the earth will rise up against them. 28 The possessions of their house will be carried away, dragged off in the day of God's wrath. 29 This is the portion of the wicked from God, the heritage decreed for them by God."
A. Zophar's disquiet continues. Vv.24-25 give another gruesome image of the fate of the wicked. What is it? It is reminiscent to me of the way Homer describes the death of warriors in the Iliad. The iron tears out their inward parts before their armor clatters upon them.
B. Is v.26 a reference to Job's condition or do you see it primarily as just a generalized reference?
C. Do friends ever speak to friends this way? What is the result?
This ends the second cycle of speeches in the Book of Job. With things in this level of conflict at this point, you might want to ask yourself why there is even a third cycle of speeches. How could speakers possibly go on from here? That will be one of the questions that concerns us as we move now to Job, as he speaks once again.