Applying Divine Doctrine Without Divine Authorization

20 “Because he knew no contentment in his belly,
    he will not let anything in which he delights escape him.
21 There was nothing left after he had eaten;
    therefore his prosperity will not endure.
22 In the fullness of his sufficiency he will be in distress;
    the hand of everyone in misery will come against him.
23 To fill his belly to the full,
    God will send his burning anger against him
    and rain it upon him into his body.
24 He will flee from an iron weapon;
    a bronze arrow will strike him through.
25 It is drawn forth and comes out of his body;
    the glittering point comes out of his gallbladder;
    terrors come upon him.
26 Utter darkness is laid up for his treasures;
    a fire not fanned will devour him;
    what is left in his tent will be consumed.
27 The heavens will reveal his iniquity,
    and the earth will rise up against him.
28 The possessions of his house will be carried away,
    dragged off in the day of God’s wrath.
29 This is the wicked man’s portion from God,
    the heritage decreed for him by God.” – Job 20:20-29 ESV

The longer Zophar talks, the darker his rhetoric becomes. He is on a roll and believes he has Job on the ropes. According to Zophar, not only is Job wicked and ungodly, but he is greedy and a glutton whose voracious appetite for evil will destroy him. It is somewhat shocking to remember that this man was supposed to be Job’s friend and had shown up in Uz with the intent of providing comfort and support. But when Job refused to accept the dark and condemning assessment of his situation from his three “comforters,” they turned on him. His defiant resistance to their calls for confession and repentance was met with resentment and incredulity. Zophar and his companions couldn’t believe their ears. How could this miserable wretch of a man dare to contradict their words of wisdom?

In his frustration with Job, Zophar resorts to blame and belittlement. He compares Job to a self-indulgent glutton who can’t control his appetite and ends up eating himself out of house and home.

“Nothing is left after they finish gorging themselves.
    Therefore, their prosperity will not endure.” – Job 20:21 NLT

To Zophar, Job is nothing more than a money-hungry, thrill-seeking, materialistic, and hedonistic fool who has reaped the results of his out-of-control lifestyle. His assessment of Job sounds similar to Paul’s description of the “enemies of the cross” who had infiltrated the church in Philippi.

They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. – Philippians 3:19 NLT

But the problem with Zophar’s less-than-flattering assessment of Job is that it directly contradicts what God had to say about His faithful servant.

“Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” – Job 1:8 NLT

It seems obvious that Zophar had not sought or received insight from God on Job’s situation. He was simply making judgments based on external circumstances and his personal opinion. He is right in stressing God’s hatred for sin and the inevitable judgment that awaits those who refuse to repent. But his quick-to-judge mentality had placed him in a precarious position, where he found himself falsely accusing the Lord’s anointed and spouting accusations and opinions that were anything but godly.

But in his over-confident zeal, Zophar charged full steam ahead, barraging his poor victim with further insults disguised as insights. He even resorts to praying for Job’s eventual destruction by God.

“May God give them a bellyful of trouble.
    May God rain down his anger upon them.” – Job 20:23 NLT

Of course, he’s kind enough not to address Job by name but his intentions are clear, and the not-so-subtle message didn’t escape Job. It would have been difficult to miss what Zophar was inferring by his graphic depiction of an arrow piercing human flesh and dripping with blood.

“When they try to escape an iron weapon,
    a bronze-tipped arrow will pierce them.
The arrow is pulled from their back,
    and the arrowhead glistens with blood.” – Job 20:24-25 NLT

According to Zophar, the archer is God and the victim is Job. God, the righteous warrior, has rained down his anger on the wicked and well-deserving Job. There was nowhere Job could run from God’s wrath. He could continue to deny his guilt but God would eventually expose him for what he really was: a guilty and unrepentant sinner.

But again, Zophar is attempting to apply truth based on false assumptions. While much of what he says is accurate, he has mistakenly misapplied the doctrine concerning God’s judgment. There is nothing wrong with his portrayal of God as a vengeful judge who metes out wrath on the wicked. The Scriptures fully support Zophar’s understanding of divine judgment upon those who perpetrate evil.

For the wicked will be destroyed,
    but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.

Soon the wicked will disappear.
    Though you look for them, they will be gone. – Psalm 37:9-10 NLT

The wicked plot against the godly;
    they snarl at them in defiance.
But the Lord just laughs,
    for he sees their day of judgment coming. – Psalm 37:12-13 NLT

Though the wicked sprout like weeds
    and evildoers flourish,
    they will be destroyed forever. – Psalm 92:7 NLT

The problem was how Zophar had assumed the worst when it came to Job’s predicament. He wrongly assessed Job’s fall as evidence of wickedness and proof of God’s displeasure. From what he could gather, Job had screwed up and God had rained down His righteous anger in just retribution.

But he was wrong.

Zophar didn’t have all the facts, so he ended up making wrong assumptions and drawing faulty conclusions. He spoke with self-assumed certainty and an over-confident assurance in his own assessment of the facts.

But he was wrong; categorically and catastrophically wrong.

Yet, he got one thing right. He boldly claimed, “The heavens will reveal their guilt, and the earth will testify against them” (Job 20:27 NLT). That one statement drips with truth and reflects the reality that only God knows the hearts of men and only He is authorized to stand in judgment as to their guilt or innocence.

The one thing Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz got consistently right was their call to repentance. All men are required to come to God, confessing their sins and repenting of their open rebellion against His righteous rule and reign. But where these three men got off the rails was in their assumption of Job’s wickedness and their assertion that all of Job’s pain and suffering was the handiwork of God.

“Was Zophar correct in his assessment of the wicked person’s fate? He was correct in saying that God judges sin, but he was wrong in claiming that God’s judgment always takes place during our earthly lifetime. He was also inaccurate in saying that Job was the type of person he described.” – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Job

Zophar was right when he stated, “This is the reward that God gives the wicked. It is the inheritance decreed by God” (Job 20:29 NLT), but he was wrong in applying it to Job. The doctrines of God are righteous, just, and true, but they must be wielded carefully and judiciously. They should never be used as hammers to beat down the defenseless or to win a war of words with an opponent.

Paul told his young protégé, Timothy, “Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior” (2 Timothy 2:15-16 NLT). Knowing doctrine is not enough; you also have to know when and how to apply it. Paul also told Timothy that an overseer or leader in the church “must be able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2 NLT). That phrase carries the idea that a godly leader must be equipped “to teach God’s Word with skill.”

Verses quoted out of context, doctrines used as weapons, and godly truths misappropriated and misapplied are all to be avoided like the plague. Zophar was a veritable fountain of doctrine but he had used it to deluge Job and leave him drowning in despair. If only Zophar had understood that God’s Word, rightly divided, was fully capable of exposing and excising sin. It alone can reveal the condition of the heart and bring about either conviction or comfort. As the author of Hebrews so eloquently put it, “…the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT).

But before you dare to speak on behalf of God, it pays to have heard from God. These men had chosen to address Job’s circumstances as self-appointed spokesmen for God. but they had failed to seek the will of God. Their arrogant appropriation of divine doctrine without divine authorization placed them in dangerous company. Without knowing it, they had become false prophets guilty of propagating false messages from God, and this is not something God takes lightly.

“I have not sent these prophets,
    yet they run around claiming to speak for me.
I have given them no message,
    yet they go on prophesying.
If they had stood before me and listened to me,
    they would have spoken my words,
and they would have turned my people
    from their evil ways and deeds. – Jeremiah 23:21-22 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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