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The interaction between Job and his friends must have been a sight to behold. As we have made our way through their speeches, we have observed mounting frustration amongst the three counsellors. Each speech is more vociferous and blunter than the preceding one. These men were growing more and more frustrated at Job’s unwillingness to confess whatever sin he had committed to invite God’s judgement.

For his part, Job could not confess sin because he could not identify sin. Nor could his friends point out any sin to him, though they tried valiantly to do so. Chapter 20 records Zophar’s second speech, which essentially highlights three things that wicked people like Job should expect.

First, godless people like Job should expect a brief life (vv. 1–11). The ever-solid tradition of the ancestors affirmed that “the exulting of the wicked is short and the joy of the godless is but for a moment” (v. 5). The wicked man may exalt himself as the godless did at Babel, but “he will perish forever like his own dung” (vv. 6–7).

Job needed to take his message to heart. He could not possibly hope to experience long life and, consequently, vindication if he kept his sins hidden. Far better to openly confess than to conceal sin and fall under a divine death sentence.

Second, godless people like Job should expect fleeting pleasure (vv. 12–19). A later author would write of the fleeting pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:24–25) but Zophar knew all about this. In the moment, sin tastes sweet, but its sweetness conceals its deadly poison. Job could conceal his sin and cling to whatever pleasure it was giving him, but that pleasure would certainly prove to be a foretaste of death.

At this point, Zophar appears to have realised that he could not hope to call out Job without putting his finger on some specific sin. In v. 19, therefore, he makes a bold accusation: “For he has crushed and abandoned the poor; he has seized a house he did not build.” This was Job’s sin: He showed no pity of the poor and greedily stole that which was not his. No wonder God was punishing him!

Third, godless people like Job should expect a painful death (vv. 20–28). God’s burning anger would prove inescapable. Flee as he might, God’s judgement would find him (vv. 24–25). In fact, God would “send his burning anger against him and rain it upon him into his body” (v. 23). Like a man caught unprepared in a thunderstorm, Job would be drenched with divine wrath. Both he and his possessions would be consumed.

Zophar concludes his second speech with certainty: “This is the wicked man’s portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God” (v. 29). It was clear, simple, and beyond dispute. Job must simply receive it, confess his sin, and experience God’s renewed favour.

As was true of Bildad’s second speech, much of what Zophar said here is true—of the wicked. The problem was, Job was not wicked. But this sets before us an important question: Why do we need to listen to him? We know that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for us (2 Timothy 3:16–17), but what profit is there in listening to radically misapplied truth?

When we consider that Job was experiencing the pains that his friends described though he had not sinned, we realise that there is an important application for us. Zophar’s words certainly describe the end of the wicked. But they might also describe the experience of the godly in this life. When Jesus asked James and John whether they could drink the cup he was about to drink, they replied that they certainly could. Rather than rebuke them for their arrogance (or ignorance), Jesus affirmed that they would drink his cup (Matthew 20:22–23). He did not mean that they would, like him, suffer vicarious for the sins of the world, but that they would likewise experience undeserved opposition and affliction similar to that he was about to face.

It is sometimes God’s will that his people experience suffering—even great (Job-like) suffering. Even as we recognise Zophar’s misapplication, therefore, we do well to listen to his words as we realise that sometimes, in this life, God’s people do experience the kind of affliction that we like to imagine is reserved only for the wicked.

As you meditate on Job 20 this morning, ask God for the strength to face affliction with the resolute conviction that you, a child of God, might expect to suffer, not because of your sin, but because that is often the lot of God’s faithful people.