Job 20: Lessons From Zophar’s Mistakes for Confronting Someone Accused of Sin

Introduction: This chapter records Zophar’s second attack against Job. Like Bildad, Zophar sought to confront Job for his alleged sins. But Zophar did so in a mean-spirited and pointless manner. Even worse, he had no evidence that Job had ever committed any serious sins. From Zophar’s mistakes, God reveals seven lessons for confronting an alleged sinner. These include: (1) forbearance, (2) prayer, (3) God’s Word, (4) hope, (5) truth, (6) compassion, and (7) love.

First, Zophar began by warning Job that he could no longer hold back the anger that he felt after listening to Job. Confronting a sinner, however, should be done with restraint. Speaking out of anger only serves to injure the other person. Second, Zophar relied upon tradition and worldly wisdom to make his case that Job must be a sinner. He should have instead prayed before opening his mouth. Confronting a sinner should also never be done without prayer. Third, Zophar alleged that the joy of the wicked was quickly fleeting. Thus, he argued that Job’s lack of joy was proof of his wickedness. But his claim was not consistent with God’s Word. Jesus warns that believers will experience turbulence in the world. Confronting a sinner should always be done in a manner consistent with God’s Word. Fourth, Zophar argued that Job would soon die in poverty. But his mean-spirited approach was not Biblical. Confronting an alleged sinner should always be done by offering the hope of God’s restoration. Fifth, Zophar resorted to lies by accusing Job of stealing from the poor. He alleged that Job’s ill-gotten gains had become toxic to him. But these charges were utterly false. Confronting a sinner should only be done with the truth. Sixth, Zophar also used the loss of Job’s wealth as proof of God’s wrath against him. Instead, Zophar should have shown Job compassion and offered to help Job when he had nothing left. Confronting an alleged sinner should also be done with compassion. Finally, Zophar pronounced God’s judgment upon Job with anger and fury. God’s love was absent from his words or intent. Confronting an alleged sinner should also only be done with God’s love.

1. Forbearance: Confronting a Sinner Should be Done with Restraint. Job 20:1-3.

  • Zophar became enraged after listening to Job. After listening to Job’s speeches in response to his friends, Zophar could no longer hold back from expressing his contempt: “1 Then Zophar the Naamathite responded, ‘Therefore my disquieting thoughts make me respond, even because of my inward agitation. I listened to the reprimand which insults me, and the spirit of my understanding makes me answer.”’ (Job 20:1-3). Job had just warned his friends that God would judge them for their unfounded attacks against him: “Then be afraid of the sword for yourselves, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, so that you may know there is judgment.” (Job 19:29). Zophar felt insulted and angry. Yet, instead of exercising self-control, he decided to lash out with rage at Job.

  • Don’t attempt to discipline another or express your views when you are angry. Like Bildad, Zophar acted foolishly because he failed to control his temper and his tongue: “One who is slow to anger has great understanding; but one who is quick-tempered exalts foolishness.” (Prov. 14:29). “When there are many words, wrongdoing is unavoidable, but one who restrains his lips is wise.” (Prov. 10:19). “One who withholds his words has knowledge, and one who has a cool spirit is a person of understanding.” (Prov. 17:27). “Do you see a person who is hasty with his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Prov. 29:20). “You know this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Now everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger;” (Jam. 1:19).

Zophar became filled with rage after listening to Job1

  • Jesus remained silent when He was attacked. When Jesus offered harsh words, it was limited to the religious leaders who were leading the people astray (E.g., Matt. 23:27-28). Yet, when He was attacked personally, He remained silent: “And then the high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, ‘Do You not offer any answer for what these men are testifying against You?’ But He kept silent and did not offer any answer.” (Mk. 14:60-61a). When others attack you, do you restrain yourself like Jesus? Or, do you give into the desires of your flesh to lash out in the same way that Zophar did?

2. Prayer: Confronting a Sinner Should Never Be Done Without Prayer. Job 20:4.

  • Zophar appealed to tradition to lecture Job. Instead of praying or investigating to establish evidence of a sin, Zophar implored Job to listen to the wisdom of tradition: “Do you know this from ancient times, from the establishment of mankind on earth,” (Job 20:4). Bildad also appealed to Job to accept their traditions: “Please inquire of past generations, and consider the things searched out by their fathers.” (Job 8:8). Eliphaz had also made a similar claim: “What wise people have told, and have not concealed from their fathers,” (Job 15:18). Job’s friends found Job offensive for refusing to accept worldly tradition. Their opinions, however, were devoid of any evidence of a serious sin.

  • Don’t let tradition govern your actions when it conflicts with God’s Word. It is common for believers to rely upon tradition. Yet, worldly wisdom is foolish to God. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the sight of God. For it is written: ‘He is the one who catches the wise by their craftiness’;” (1 Cor. 3:19). Jesus therefore warns believers not to choose the traditions of mankind, even when widely accepted, over His Word: “‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”’ (Mark 7:6-8; Matt. 15:7-9; Is. 29:13).

  • Pray for wisdom and read God’s Word before you offer advice. If you wish to avoid making the mistake of Job’s friends, pray for wisdom and read God’s Word: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in secret You will make wisdom known to me.” (Ps. 51:6). “For to a person who is good in His sight, He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, . ..” (Ecc. 2:26). Are you praying for wisdom when others need counseling?

  • Let the Holy Spirit guide your words of advice for others. When you pray and submit to God, the Holy Spirit will guide your words of advice for others in need: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (Jo. 16:13). “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:16). God wants you to seek His guidance through prayer and the Word. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19). Do you pray and read God’s Word before words of advice to others?

3. God’s Word: Confronting a Sinner Should be Consistent with God’s Word. Job 20:5-8.

  • Zophar alleged that joys of the wicked were quickly fleeting. To prove that Job was a sinner, Zophar relied upon his own understanding that a sinner’s joy is short-lived: “that the rejoicing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless momentary? Though his arrogance reaches the heavens, and his head touches the clouds, he perishes forever like his refuse; those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’ He flies away like a dream, and they cannot find him; like a vision of the night he is chased away.” (Job 20:5-8). Job’s lack of joy was apparently proof that Job was a sinner. The reference to Job’s “arrogance reach[ing] the heavens, and his head touch[ing] the clouds, (Job 20:6) likely referenced Job’s prior immense wealth and influence. These statements suggest that Zophar was jealous of Job’s prior exalted status. He alleged that the memory of Job would fade away like a vision or a dream (Job 20:8). In his haste to harshly condemn Job, Zophar further sought to quash Job’s hope in a life after his death. Thus, he argued that an evil person would perish “forever.” (Job 20:7).

  • The joy of the wicked can sometimes be long-lasting. Zophar claimed that the joy of the wicked is temporary (Job 20:5,7). Bildad made a similar claim during his first speech: “While it is still green and not cut down, yet it withers before any other plant. So are the paths of all who forget God; and the hope of the godless will perish,” (Job 8:11-12). “If he is removed from his place, then it will deny him, saying, ‘I never saw you.’” (Job 8:18). Zophar further claimed that the joy of wickedness was as transitory as a dream (Job 20:8). Bildad also made a similar claim during his second speech: “All around sudden terrors frighten him, and harass him at every step. . . He is driven from light into darkness, and chased from the inhabited world.” (Job 18:11, 18). As a general matter, it is true that sin only brings pleasure for a season (Heb. 11:25). Yet, Job’s friends would have known of the stories of mankind from before the Flood. Noah suffered through the wickedness of his contemporaries for a full 120 years while he preached to them (Gen. 6:3). The psalmist would also later point out that there are plenty of wicked people who appear to prosper: “I have seen a wicked, violent person spreading himself like a luxuriant tree in its native soil.” (Ps. 37:35). “How long, LORD, shall the wicked— How long shall the wicked triumph?” (Ps. 94:3). Judgment happens in God’s timing.

  • God sometimes allows evil people to prosper. Even Jesus observed that God the Father “ . . . causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45). Although God may also allow sinners to face judgment on Earth for their sins, that is within His discretion and subject to His greater plans for good (Ro. 8:28). God will one day judge each person according to their deeds. But this will happen in heaven. For believers in Christ Jesus, He has taken the penalty for our sins. If we were all judged by our deeds, none would be found worthy (Ro. 3:10).

  • God also can allow the innocent to suffer. God may also allow the innocent to suffer when it is necessary as part of His greater plan. The best example of this was Jesus. He died without sin so that mankind’s sins could be cast upon Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

  • Don’t misrepresent God’s Word when counseling others. When a person is ready to hear God’s Word, you should be prepared to give a Biblically accurate explanation for the hope that lies within you (1 Pet. 3:15). To do this you need to study God’s Word. Are you regularly studying the Word so that you can accurately use it to help others in need?

4. Hope: Confronting a Sinner Should be Done with the Hope of Restoration. Job 20:9-11.

  • Zophar warned that Job will die soon and in poverty. To further crush Job’s hope, Zophar warned that his life would soon end without any type of inheritance to pass on: “The eye which saw him sees him no longer, and his place no longer beholds him. 10 His sons favor the poor, and his hands give back his wealth. 11 His bones are full of his youthful strength, but it lies down with him in the dust.” (Job 20:9-11). For emphasis, Zophar repeated that Job would soon vanish and die (Job 20:5, 8-9, 11). But he added insult to injury by stating that Job’s alleged ill-gotten wealth would return to the poor.

Zophar predicted that God would cause Job to die soon and in poverty2

  • Misery can create a feeling of hopelessness. Zophar appears to have turned Job’s professed feeling of hopelessness against him: “The eye of him who sees me will no longer look at me; Your eyes will be on me, but I will not exist.” (Job 7:8). It is a true statement that mankind’s existence on Earth is transitory, like the grass: “As for man, his days are like grass; like a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place no longer knows about it.” (Ps. 103:15-16). “The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; the people are indeed grass!” (Is. 40:7). Other psalms make a similar claim as Zophar regarding the fleeting nature of the wicked: “Yet a little while and the wicked person will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.” (Ps. 37:10). But it is up to God to decide the length of each person’s life and how and when a sinner is judged.

  • Offer an alleged sinner God’s hope. God’s goal when He uses you to confront an alleged sinner is to restore them, not to condemn them: “Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will make Your ear attentive to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, so that mankind, which is of the earth, will no longer cause terror.” (Ps. 10:17-18). “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry for help and save them.” (Ps. 145:19). “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14). When you confront an alleged sinner, are you trying to restore them or rip them down? If you are only trying to condemn them, you are speaking for the enemy. 

5. Truth: Confronting a Sinner Should Only be Done with Truth. Job 20:12-19.

  • Zophar falsely alleged that Job’s calamities were the result of his theft from the poor. To add insult to injury, Zophar asserted that Job’s alleged theft from the poor had finally become toxic to him: “12 Though evil tastes sweet in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue, 13 though he desires it and will not let it go, but holds it in his mouth, 14 yet his food in his stomach is changed to the venom of cobras within him. 15 He swallows riches, but will vomit them up; God will expel them from his belly. 16 He sucks the poison of cobras; the viper’s tongue kills him. 17 He does not look at the streams, the rivers flowing with honey and curds. 18 He returns the product of his labor and cannot swallow it; as to the riches of his trading, he cannot even enjoy them. 19 For he has oppressed and neglected the poor; he has seized a house which he has not built.” (Job 20:12-19). Job was once incredibly wealthy (Job 1:2-3). After Zophar mentioned God for the first time in verse 15, he alleged that Job’s physical distress was the result of God’s punishment for his alleged theft from the poor. His alleged ill-gotten gains had become poison in his stomach. Restated in modern terms, “a time comes when the self-complacency of the wicked man is shaken. He experiences a failure of health or spirits. Then, suddenly, it is as if the meat that he has swallowed had been turned to poison in his bowels, as if the gall of asps were within him.” (Pulpit Commentary on Job 20:12).3

Zophar falsely accused Job of harming the poor4

  • Zophar made false allegations of theft against the poor without any evidence. While Zophar had previously sought to judge Job by his circumstances, he now sought to back up his allegations with a false charge of theft: “For the first time a specific sin appears. The primary crime that Zophar had in mind, for which these criminals suffered, was oppression. Throughout the Old Testament are found numerous injunctions to care for the poor, be generous to widows, and exercise generosity and hospitality (Lev 19:10; Deut 15:4; Ps 72:4, 12-14; Prov 31:8-9; Is. 10:1-2; Ezek 18:12; Amos 5:11, etc.).” (Robert Alden, The New American Commentary, Vol. 11, Job (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 216). But there was no evidence that Job had stolen from the poor. Even Satan gave God the credit for Job’s blessings: “You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” (Job 1:10b). Because he was a man of faith, Job also extended God’s blessings to help strangers in need: “Because I saved the poor who cried for help, and the orphan who had no helper. The blessing of the one who was about to perish came upon me, and I made the widow’s heart sing for joy. . . I was eyes to those who were blind, and feet to those who could not walk. I was a father to the poor, and I investigated the case which I did not know.” (Job 29:12-16; 31:16-21).

  • When you resort to lies, you speak for the enemy. Zophar would have known of Job’s generosity as his friend. Thus, he knew that there was no basis to accuse Job of theft. Calling Job a thief was nothing short of a lie that was meant to hurt Job. If you feel the need to lie or bend the truth to win an argument, you are speaking for the devil: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44). Do you only speak from truth when you need to confront a sinner?

6. Compassion: Confronting a Sinner Should be Done with Compassion. Job 20:20-22.

  • Zophar alleged that Job’s loss of his wealth was evidence of his sins against God. Zophar alleged that Job would not have lost his wealth if God did not view him a major sinner: “20 Because he knew no quiet within him, he does not retain anything he desires. 21 Nothing remains for him to devour, therefore his prosperity does not endure. 22 In the fullness of his excess he will be cramped; the hand of everyone who suffers will come against him.” (Job 20:20-22). Eliphaz made a similar allegation that only the wicked lose their wealth: “He will not become rich, nor will his wealth endure; and his property will not stretch out on the earth.” (Job 15:29). “The hungry devour his harvest and take it to a place of thorns, and the schemer is eager for their wealth.” (Job 5:5).

  • God sometimes does allow sinners to lose their wealth to bring them to God. In a similar manner, Moses proclaimed that it is God who decides who receives wealth and power: “But you are to remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, in order to confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Dt. 8:18). Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving also revealed that it is God who decides who becomes poor or rich: “The LORD makes poor and rich; He humbles, He also exalts.” (1 Sam. 2:7). Solomon also alleged that those who coveted wealth or were filled with pride frequently died with transitory or meaningless accomplishments: “There is a sickening evil which I have seen under the sun: wealth being hoarded by its owner to his detriment. When that wealth was lost through bad business and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him. As he came naked from his mother’s womb, so he will return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand.” (Ecc. 5:13-15). Thus, never judge a person by the amount of their wealth.

  • God can also remove a person’s wealth for reasons having nothing to do with sin. When his trials began, Job had the faith to know that God had the right to give and take away wealth for His own reasons: “He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”’ (Job 1:21). “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it, either.” (1 Tim. 6:7). Job’s wealth did not prove his righteousness. For the same reasons, believers should reject the “prosperity gospel.”

  • Zophar failed to offer his friend compassion. Instead of tormenting Job for his lost wealth, Zophar should have shown him compassion: “Zophar, despite his eloquence and sincerity, had no compassion. He left no room for repentance and put all his stress on the importance of material possessions, while Job at this point was increasingly concerned over his relationship with God, no matter what happened to his body or possessions (19:23-27).” (Frank Gaebelein, Elmer Smick, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 1, 2 Kings, 1, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Zondervan Publishing House 1988) p. 947). Zophar could have shown his compassion by offering Job financial help.

  • Show God’s compassion and comfort to others. When the world turns against you, Jesus offers you His comfort and love: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4; 7:6; Is. 51:12). God in turn asks you to be kind and compassionate toward others, just as He is to you: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience;” (Col. 3:12). “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32). When others around you are hurting, do you offer them God’s compassion?

7. Love: Confronting a Sinner Should be Done with Love. Job 20:23-29.

  • Zophar alleged that the wicked faced God’s judgment. Zophar cited God’s future promise to judge the wicked to allege that God had judged Job to be wicked sinner: “23 When he fills his belly, God will send His fierce anger on him and rain it on him while he is eating. 24 He may flee from the iron weapon, but the bronze bow will pierce him. 25 It is drawn and comes out of his back, even the flashing point from his gallbladder; terrors come upon him, 26 Complete darkness is held in reserve for his treasures, and unfanned fire will devour him; it will consume the survivor in his tent. 27 The heavens will reveal his guilt, and the earth will rise up against him. 28 The increase of his house will disappear; his possessions will flow away on the day of His anger. 29 This is a wicked person’s portion from God, the inheritance decreed to him by God.” (Job 20:23-29). Although Zophar made statements that were true in the abstract, there was no evidence that they applied to Job. Zophar’s words also misrepresent God’s love. God loves sinners and wants them to repent. He only judges as a last resort when a sinner rejects Jesus. Even if there were any merit to Zophar’s charges against Job, his approach to confronting Job was wrong and ineffective because it was not rooted in love.

  • God’s ultimate judgment of the wicked will be swift. Zophar used the analogy of a person with a full belly being struck down to argue that Job’s swift judgment was evidence of God’s wrath against him (Job 20:23). It is a true statement that God’s judgment can be swift and unexpected (e.g., Ps. 78:30-31). But there was no evidence that Job’s swift change of fortune was the result of God’s judgment.

  • Unrepentant sinners will one day find themselves in darkness without God’s light. Zophar also used the analogy of darkness to argue that Job’s feeling of darkness was evidence of his judgment (Job 20:25-26). Eliphaz made a similar claim that Job’s darkness was evidence that he was under God’s judgment for sin: “By day they meet with darkness, and grope at noon as in the night.” (Job 5:14). In his second speech, Eliphaz repeated this claim: “He will not escape from darkness; the flame will dry up his shoot, and he will go away by the breath of His mouth.” (Job 15:30). Because God is the source of light, a sinner who rejects God will one day experience the darkness that comes from rejecting God (e.g., Matt. 8:12). But there was no evidence that this applied to Job.

  • God’s judgment upon unrepentant sinners will be painful. Job had previously complained that God’s arrows had pierced him (Job 6:4; 7:20). Now, Zophar used Job’s words against him by stating that God’s “bronze bow will pierce him.” (Job 20:24). Although it is true that God’s judgment upon a sinner will be painful, Zophar did not have the right to speak on behalf of God. His words were hateful and mean-spirited.

  • Show God’s love to an alleged sinner. Even if Job were a sinner, Zophar should have approached him with God’s love. Jesus did not die to judge sinners, but instead to offer them forgiveness and eternal life (Jo. 3:16; 13:34). God’s love includes His offer of grace: “Zophar – as with the rest of Job’s friends – also left little room for grace.” (David Guzik on Job 20) (italics original).5 When you show kindness and love to a sinner who refuses to repent, you “heap burning coals on his heads.” (Ro. 12:20). If you are witnessing to an alleged sinner, do you do so with God’s love or a judgmental heart?