Job 20:4
Do you not know that from antiquity, since man was placed on the earth,
Godless Prosperity Short-LivedE. Johnson Job 20:1-29
Against HypocrisySketches of SermonsJob 20:4-5
The Triumph of the WickedGeorge Wagner.Job 20:4-5
The Triumphing of the Wicked ShortF. Rogers Blackley.Job 20:4-5

Here we have a new variation on the favourite theme of the friends - the inconstancy of godless prosperity. "The jubilation of the wicked is but of short duration, and the joy of the profligate but a moment." The wicked man is specially here described as a rich man, who greedily snatches at others' property, and whose ill-gotten gains become a deadly consuming fire to him and all his. It is related to Eliphaz's speech (ch. 15.) as the superlative to the positive, and to Bildad's (ch. 18.) as the superlative to the comparative. Similar remarks to those, then, must here apply; and the description is in itself true, apt, and striking, but its evident animus against Job is fiercely unjust.

I. CENSURE OF JOB: INTRODUCTION OF THE THEME. (Vers. 1-5.) "Therefore my thoughts reply to me, and hence comes the storm of my bosom. Must I hear correction that insults me? But my spirit out of my understanding gives me an answer" - namely, of warning and chastisement to Job as a godless man (vers. 1-3). Zophar then gives these suggestions of his spirit in the form of a question directed to Job: "Knowest thou this from eternity, since man was placed on the earth, that the triumph of the wicked endures but a short time, and the joy of the reprobate but a moment?" He is astonished that Job, as appears from his speeches, is unacquainted with this well-worn and familiar truth of experience (vers. 4, 5).


1. "Though his glory mounts,, to heaven, and his head reaches to the clouds (comp. Isaiah 14:13, 14; Obadiah 1:4), like his dung he perishes for ever; they that saw him say, Where is he?" The coarsest and most contemptuous comparison seems to be purposely selected (ver. 7). The next is that of the fugitive dream (ver. 8; comp. Isaiah 29:7; Psalm 73:20; Psalm 90:5). Dreams and visions of the night! emptiest things! appearing to be something while they last, but leaving no trace behind when the sleeper wakes. The eye that has seen him shall see him no more; and the place where he seemed to move, a solid person of flesh and blood, beholds that figure no longer (nor. 9). The curse descends to his children; they are reduced to court the favour of humble folk, and they have to give up to their father's creditors his ill-gotten wealth (ver. 10). How often, though not without exception, do we see this to be the rule of life - the beggary or the wealth of children is rooted in the wickedness or goodness of the parents (Exodus 20:5; Psalm 37:25)! Let him who would see his children happy beware of sin. "His bones were full of youthful strength, and with him it lies in the bed of dust" (ver. 11).

2. The inconstant prosperity of the wicked under the figure of sweet food but deadly poison. (Vers. 12-16.) "Though evil tastes sweet in his mouth, he hides it under his tongue," rolling it as a delicious morsel, he sparingly fosters it, and lets it not go, and keeps it back on his palate" (in five synonymous phrases the idea of the dwelling and gloating over the sweet morsel of sin is set forth, vers. 12, 13); "yet his food is changed in his bowels - vipers' poison is in his interior (ver. 14). The riches he has swallowed God expels from his paunch. The drastic language betrays the energy and violence of Zophar's feelings (ver. 15). Then, recurring to the figure of ver. 14, "the tongue of adders slays him"(Psalm 140:3), the deadly bite replacing in the description the deadly draught (ver. 16; Proverbs 23:32). So God turns men's "pleasant vices" into whips and scourges for their backs ('King Lear'). The sweet Dead Sea fruits that tempt the taste turn to ashes on the lips. Sinful pleasure turns to pain, It begins with sweetness, like sugar, but afterwards bites like a serpent (Proverbs 20:17; Sirach 21:2, et seq.).

3. (Vers. 17-22.) "He may not see his pleasure in brooks, streams, floods of honey and cream" (ver. 17). These are well-known biblical figures for luxury and fulness of prosperity (Exodus 3:8, 17). And where the classic poets describe the golden age these figures occur: "streams of milk, streams of nectar flowed" (Ovid, 'Metam.,' 1:111, sqq.; Theocr., 'Id.,' 5:124, sqq.; Virg., 'Eel.,' 4:30; Her., 'Epod.,' 16:47). "He gives back what he has gained, and enjoys it not; accord ing to the property of his barter he is not merry;" that is, in proportion as he employed unjust means of exchange, to obtain temporal goods and enjoyment, he does not rejoice in them, he must go without the mirth that he promised himself from them (ver. 18). "For he crushed, and caused the lowly to he down." With what tender regard does biblical morality and law treat the poor and defenceless! what indignation does it testify against the oppressor! "He snatched houses for himself, and built them not." The meaning perhaps is, he built them not anew, did not succeed in rebuilding them according to his taste, because he could not possess them for a permanence (ver. 19). "For he knew no rest in his belly." "The way of peace" (Isaiah 59:8) is not for restless greed and selfish hardness to others' sufferings to tread. "Therefore he will not escape with that which is dearest to him" (ver. 20). "Nothing escaped his greed, therefore his possessions shall not continue" (ver. 21). "In the fulness of his super fluity he comes into straits; every hand of the wretched comes upon him" (ver. 22). The clamours of those whom he has wronged, the cries of the widows, the orphans, the poor, make a din in the ears of the bad man; their hands stretch forth to seize the goods of which he has defrauded them. It is a striking picture of retribution. Perhalps the most salient point in this description is that of the insatiableness of greed. "The dire dropsy increases by self-indulgence, nor expels the thirst, unless the cause of disease flees from the veins, and the watery languor from the pale body," says Horace, in a noble ode on the use and abuse of riches. "You shall more widely rule," he says, "by taming the greedy spirit, than could you join Libya to far-off Gades" ('Od.' 2:2). Riches cannot satisfy the soul, nor any earthly good, but only God (Ecclesiastes 1:8). The covetous temper finds as much want in what it has as in what it has not. No possessions, however great, can satisfy, us, until we have found the treasury of all good things in God. We are still little Alexanders, not content to rule over one world - grieved to hear there are no more (Brenz).

4. End of the wicked man in accordance with the Divine judgment. (Vers. 28-28.) "That it may serve for the filling of his belly, he causes his fiery wrath to fall upon him" (comp. Job 18:15). ion the figure of filling the belly, cf. ver. 20; Luke 15:16.) "And causes to rain upon him with his food;" that is, his food, the wages of his sin, is the just punishment from God (ver. 23). The description goes on to point out the means by which the wrathful judgment of Heaven is executed (ver. 24, sqq.).

(1) Warlike examples: pursuit and wounds. "He flees from the iron harness, the brazen bow pierces him" (Judges 5:26). He draws the arrow from his body (Judges 3:22), and the shining steel comes out of his gall; the terrors of death come upon him (ver. 25). Then

(2) some further descriptions of the Divine judgment, especially with reference to the property of the wicked. "All darkness is reserved for his treasures." His hoards are exposed to every casualty. He finds that he has been "treasuring up for himself - wrath!" (Romans 2:5). A fire that no human hands have kindled devours him, destroying the relies of former judgments (ver. 26). "The heavens disclose his guilt, and earth rises against him" (ver. 27). A striking contrast to Job 16:18, 19, where Job had appealed to heaven and earth as witnesses of his innocence. Thus denied and cast from both, the only place for the wicked is in Sheol, or Hades. The produce of his house must pass away, like wrecks floating down a flood, in the day of God's wrath (ver. 28). CONCLUSION. "Such is the lot of the wicked man from God, and the heritage allotted to him by God" (ver. 29). The witness of nature against the sinner - this is the most powerful concluding thought in this awe-striking address. Nature seems to be unconscious of men's guilt, as of their virtues. The leaves of the forest do not shudder, the bright blue sky is not overcast, the earth does not quake when deeds of crime are done. Yet that majestic order represented by heaven and earth - the order which finds its reflection in the conscience of man - cannot be violated with impunity. It will avenge itself in the end. And we see from time to time striking types and prophecies of this in the way by which crime is detected from the traces left on the face of nature, or by the clues afforded by natural law. The light of day reveals the deed of the night-time, and the earth gives up her dead. If all sins thus leave some record, what rest or peace could there be for the guilty conscience except in the gospel, which assures us that in Christ the sins of the penitent and believing are "covered," and that his blood cleanseth from all sin? - J.

That the triumphing of the wicked is short.
The words of the text are indisputably true, though misapplied. In the world there is, alas! very often a triumphing of the wicked. Sometimes We see it on a grand scale, as in the cases of Pharaoh, or of Nero. Sometimes we see it on a small scale. There is great mystery in this apparent triumph of evil. Many a suffering saint has been perplexed by this feature of the Divine government (Psalm 23).


1. God is a God of patience and long-suffering. He does not cut short the day of grace, even of the most ungodly, but gives them space for repentance. And even if this is of no avail, yet it is a display of His own attributes, and leaves the impenitent more completely without excuse.

2. This triumph may be permitted for a time, as a chastisement to His people, or to His world. God uses the wicked as unconscious instruments in executing His will, and especially in inflicting chastisement on His backsliding people.

II. There is another, and how different a triumph, THE TRIUMPH OF THE CHRISTIAN. His triumph is not over the weak and suffering, but over the strong — the world, the flesh, the devil.

(George Wagner.)

I. THE TRIUMPH MENTIONED. The term used by Zophar is of very general meaning. It signifies the joy which is displayed by the conqueror on account of the successes which have attended him. It is to be understood as referring to the boast which ungodly men often make of their achievements. The term applies to the general conduct of all those who set God's laws at defiance, and by their life show who take pleasure in the ways of sin. The enjoyment of transgression is the triumph of ungodliness.


1. In regard to the object itself. It is a conquest which circumstances put into their hands. But see how unstable is war.

2. The expression is also true as it regards the term of human life. The period allotted to man, even the longest period, is only a small portion of time. Death will soon overtake the ungodly, and put a final termination to all his plans and purposes; he will hurry the soul before the Judge of quick and dead, to give account of the deeds done in the body. Then will appear the value of the one thing needful. This subject teaches the people of God not to despond, not to judge or conclude that the wicked are happy, because they seem to prosper and triumph. It teaches the believer the obligations under which he lies to God for grace — grace which has enlightened his mind — grace which has led him to Christ, to believe in Him, and find mercy and peace — grace which has guided his steps, and enabled him to bear patiently all the ills of life, in the hope of a triumph forever.

(F. Rogers Blackley.)

And the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment.
Sketches of Sermons.
Prejudice or passion will miserably warp the judgment. It will hide from us what we know not, and cause us to pervert what we do know. This is exemplified in the friends of Job. Job had hinted to them the evil and danger of their conduct (Job 19:28, 29). And Zophar, irritated at the caution, replies with great severity. His words, however, though misapplied, suggest to us two very important truths respecting sinners.

I. THEIR PROSPERITY IS TRANSIENT. Of sinners, some make no profession of religion, and others a false profession. Each of these characters may enjoy, for a while, great prosperity. the profane are often exalted to places of dignity and power. They prosper in all their labours for wealth and preferment. They "triumph," as though no evil should ever happen unto them (Psalm 73:3-12). Hypocrites also frequently are held in estimation (Revelation 3:1). They are objects of envy to many an humble and contrite soul. They will boast of experiences which might well be coveted. And even attain considerable heights of joy (Matthew 13:20). But their prosperity will be of short duration. The hypocrite shall have a period put to his dissimulation. He shall soon appear in his proper character (Deuteronomy 32:35). In comparison of eternity, the duration of his joy will be "but a moment."

II. THEIR RUIN WILL BE TREMENDOUS. The ungodly will in due time be visited for their offences. They will then "perish."

1. To their own eternal shame.

2. To the astonishment of all that knew them. The question "Where is he?" refers primarily to the utter extinction of the ungodly. Address — "Know you not this?" Know you not that this has been so from the beginning of the world? Does not the Word of God assert that" it shall be ill with the wicked"? (Isaiah 3:11; Psalm 9:17.) Does not the most authentic history in the world prove it to have been so?

(Sketches of Sermons.)

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