The Worthless Wisdom of this World

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.
10 His children will seek the favor of the poor,
    and his hands will give back his wealth.
11 His bones are full of his youthful vigor,
    but it will lie down with him in the dust.

12 “Though evil is sweet in his mouth,
    though he hides it under his tongue,
13 though he is loath to let it go
    and holds it in his mouth,
14 yet his food is turned in his stomach;
    it is the venom of cobras within him.
15 He swallows down riches and vomits them up again;
    God casts them out of his belly.
16 He will suck the poison of cobras;
    the tongue of a viper will kill him.
17 He will not look upon the rivers,
    the streams flowing with honey and curds.
18 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.
19 For he has crushed and abandoned the poor;
    he has seized a house that he did not build. – Job 20:1-19 ESV

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Now, it’s Zophar’s turn to torment Job, and he takes up the challenge with a vengeance. Like his companions, Zophar has had his fill of Job’s declarations of innocence and accusations of abuse. He is deeply offended by Job’s assertions that their counsel was harmful in any way.

“I must reply
    because I am greatly disturbed.
I’ve had to endure your insults,
    but now my spirit prompts me to reply. – Job 20:2-3 NLT

It’s amazing to witness how adept these men are at turning all the attention to themselves as they play the victim card and accuse Job of harming them. Somehow, they manage to make it all about themselves, portraying Job as the evil aggressor and themselves as his hapless and defenseless prey.

Zophar displays no compassion or empathy and is unwilling to allow his suffering friend to vent his frustration or express his confusion over his predicament. At no point do any of these men say, “I understand.” They have come to be heard, not to listen. They are determined to offer their opinions but have no desire to provide a listening ear or a word of consolation and comfort.

Rather than wrapping his arms around Job and loving him through his sorrow, Zophar chooses to beat down his brother with charges of wickedness and godlessness. But he isn’t brave enough to say, “Job, you are a wicked and evil man.” Instead, he veils his accusations in cleverly worded lessons about the well-deserved fate of such people. From the beginning of time, the wicked and godless have always gotten their just desserts. Oh, for a time they may enjoy a semblance of success and “the sweet taste of wickedness” (Job 20:12 NLT), but their joy is always temporary and their fate is permanent and inescapable.

“…the triumph of the wicked has been short lived
    and the joy of the godless has been only temporary…” – Job 20:5 NLT

“…they will vanish forever,
    thrown away like their own dung. – Job 20:7 NLT

They will fade like a dream and not be found.
    They will vanish like a vision in the night. – Job 20:8 NLT

In this grand-sounding soliloquy, Zophar never mentions Job by name but it is painfully clear who his words are meant for. He infers that Job was a prideful man who enjoyed a lifestyle of wealth and comfort. He had all the trappings of success but they were ill-gotten gain, acquired by illegal or illegitimate means. Zophar has concluded that Job’s former life of luxury and leisure was the result of “stolen riches” (Job 20:10), not the blessings of God. He rationalized that Job’s fall from grace was nothing more than payback for a life of crime, graft, and corruption. If Job’s heirs were going to live out their lives in abject poverty, it was his own fault.

Their children will beg from the poor,
    for they must give back their stolen riches. – Job 20:10 NLT

This callous statement is all the more hurtful because Zophar is fully aware that Job has no children. All ten of them had been killed when the roof of the house they were in collapsed and crushed them to death. So, Job had no inheritance or inheritors. He had nothing to leave and no one to leave it to. But that sad fact didn’t stop Zophar from continuing his relentless attack.

Zophar seems to take great pleasure in reminding Job of all that he has lost. He can’t stop alluding to Job’s former wealth and riches, and it’s impossible to know whether these attacks are driven by long-pent-up feelings of jealousy. But it is quite possible that Zophar had always been bothered by Job’s success. It’s as if he almost relishes the prospect of Job never rising from the ashes and regaining his former status as a wealthy and well-respected member of the community.

To justify his contempt for Job, Zophar must paint him in the least flattering light. So, he attributes Job’s success to corruption.

“Their wealth will bring them no joy.
For they oppressed the poor and left them destitute.
    They foreclosed on their homes.” – Job 20:18-19 NLT

This conclusion gives Zophar the freedom to treat his former friend with disdain. One almost gets the impression that Zophar has developed a strong hatred for Job that is the culmination of years of jealousy and envy. While Job was in his prime and enjoying what appeared to be the blessings of God, Zophar could only sit back and watch as his friend basked in all the affluence and accolades. Now, the tables were turned. Zophar was on top and getting to watch his former friend’s fall from grace.

For Zophar, Job’s demise was proof of his depravity and wickedness. There was no other explanation. For Job to have lost all that he had, he must have gained it all through a life of wickedness.

“They enjoyed the sweet taste of wickedness,
    letting it melt under their tongue.
They savored it,
    holding it long in their mouths.
But suddenly the food in their bellies turns sour,
    a poisonous venom in their stomach. – Job 20:12-14 NLT

Zophar’s logic is simple but sensible. Job had gained his wealth through wickedness or God would not have taken it from him.

They will vomit the wealth they swallowed.
    God won’t let them keep it down. – Job 20:15 NLT

While everyone had believed that Job’s wealth was the byproduct of his blameless life, Zophar was challenging that conclusion. He was proffering a different opinion that portrayed Job as a villain and not a victim. He proposed that the collapse of Job’s world was nothing more than the judgment of God for a life of undeserved prosperity gained through wickedness. That is why Zophar shows no sympathy to Job. He has determined his former friend to be a godless sinner whose fate is well-deserved and proof of God’s justice. Sadly, Zophar justifies his enjoyment of Job’s fall by demonizing him. This might explain why Zophar goes out of his way to portray Job as a corrupt profiteer who used his facade of righteousness for personal gain.

Like all men, Zophar is attempting to explain the complexities of life through the means of flawed and finite human reason. There is so much he doesn’t understand. There are so many things he cannot see from his limited earthly perspective. Zophar can’t peer into the heart of his friend. He has no way of determining Job’s righteousness or deciding Job’s warranting of God’s judgment. Zophar, because he is human, has no capacity for discerning the will or the ways of God. He has deemed himself to be a spokesman for God but he does not know the heart of God. And eventually, God will expose the flawed logic of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” – Job 42:7 NLT

These men had taken it upon themselves to speak on behalf of God. But nowhere in the Book of Job do we see them consulting God and attempting to discern His will concerning Job. There are no prayers directed to God. There are no requests for wisdom or insight. These men seem to believe that they reached the right conclusion without the help of God. Yet, the apostle James would have encouraged them to pray more and talk less.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. – James 1:5 NLT

Life is complicated, and understanding the complexities of the human experience is impossible without insight from the One who rules and reigns over all. Zophar had no business acting as Job’s judge. He had no right to stand in judgment over his friend and flippantly determine his fault and fate without seeking insight from God first. He and his two friends were claiming to speak for God but had not heard from God.

They had set themselves up as arbiters of truth and dispensers of divine justice. But they were more like the false teachers that Jude describes in his short but impactful letter.

They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

In the end, Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad were providing wisdom that was ungodly, counsel that was unhelpful, and conclusions that were unreliable and inaccurate. All because they failed to consult God. Had Paul been around to consult them, they may have taken a decidedly different tact.

Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,

“He traps the wise
    in the snare of their own cleverness.”

And again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise;
    he knows they are worthless.” – 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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