In the most difficult to understand chapter in the Book of Job, it appears that Job is giving a theoretical response to an argument Zophar never gives.
The biggest clue that this chapter is in effect a response to Zophar is that Job 27:13 (“This is the portion of a wicked man from God”) responds to Job 20:29 where Zophar said, “This is the wicked man’s portion from God.” Further, Job 21:27 (“Behold, I know your thoughts…”) indicates that Job is anticipating the arguments of his friends. So, a chapter where Job responds to Zophar before Zophar even speaks should not surprise us.
Job complains in the previous chapter, “How faint a word we hear of Him” (Job 26:14)! Knowing of God’s greatness, but not privy to His “secret counsel” (Job 15:8), Job in this chapter seeks to defend himself against a possible attack by Zophar: God is right, because the wicked all ultimately meet their fate. This is contrary to Job’s point in Job 26:14 (which might as well be the first verse of chapter 27.) In light of there being no answer from God, we are offered no explanation why the just suffer on Earth and the wicked can go about their lives in peace and prosperity.
Zophar already argued that the wicked ultimately meet their fate in chapter 20, with Job’s response to it in chapter 21. The thrust of Job’s argument there was that the wicked often don’t suffer until their dying day. He also touches on some of the same topics we will see in chapter 27, such as the fate of their children and God’s intentionality in cutting the wicked off (which apparently is not quick enough in Job’s opinion).
Zophar’s defense of God’s justice, that God “gets even” with the wicked on their dying day, is unsatisfying to Job, much like Bildad’s and Eliphaz’s “absolutely all men deserve suffering” line of reasoning was. So, Job again makes clear that he understands that God does put an end to the wicked, but often not by cutting short their lifetimes. This implies that a just god would act sooner in punishing wickedness than the real God who we often faintly hear a word from.
Job’s argumentation here shows his understanding of where his friends are coming from, while at the same time disproving their view that God’s retribution here on Earth corresponds with how righteous a man is. Being that death is the great equalizer, Job is essentially substantiating what he had stated previously: “He destroys the guiltless and the wicked” (Job 9:22). If this is the case, then Job’s suffering cannot be equated as just retribution for him committing some grievous sin.
It is as if Job is saying that God is indeed greater than us, beyond our imagination (Chapter 26), yet there is an obvious flaw in His justice. It would be simple enough just to cut down the wicked the moment they deserve it, or preempt them entirely.
However, God is apparently not satisfied in preempting evil and implicitly, as Job does not address the matter in Chapter 27, has no problem with the righteous suffering either. The old yarn, “Why do bad things happen to good people” makes it apparent that Job is not alone in this idea.
In short, “what comes around goes around eventually to their kids or after they die” is not compelling enough to Job.
Job begins his argument by essentially accusing God of being unfair: “As God lives, who has taken away my right and the Almighty, who has embittered my soul” (Job 27:2). We have seen this before. He previously has made clear the he is right, which means implicitly God is wrong: “Though I am righteous, my mouth will condemn me, though I am guiltless, He will declare me guilty” (Job 9:20). Further, he credits no other reason because He is aware of God’s sovereignty and His endless dominion: “If it is not He, then who is it” (Job 9:24)?
Job then asserts that “[m]y lips certainly will not speak unjustly,” which by this he means “nor will my tongue mutter deceit” (Job 27:4). In effect, he is simply saying he speaks rightly about God because he speaks the truth, instead of lying. He accuses his friends specifically of “speak[ing] what is unjust for God and…what is deceitful for Him” (Job 13:7). Job asserts that God will examine the falsehood in what they say, even though they “show partiality for Him” (Job 13:8), the result being that “He will surely reprove you” (Job 13:10).
Job thinks he is not only right in what he says, but he also refuses to call himself wicked. “I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go. My heart does not reproach any of my days” (Job 27:6). Being that walking with God is done by the Holy Spirit, Job refuses to call what is spiritual wicked and blaspheme the work the Spirit has done through him as a believer. He is confident that God knows his walk has been faithful:
But He knows the way I take;
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:10-12).
Then in frustration, Job curses his friends for calling him wicked and wishes that they experience the curses they think rightfully belong to him (Job 27:7). His frustration seems to be caused by more than simply taking what his friends said to him “too personally.” Rather, Job has already refuted his friends’ arguments. He has already addressed that the wicked are punished by death in chapter 9.Further, Job previously countered the thrust of Bildad’s arguments in chapter 25 in chapter 12. So, perhaps his frustration is caused by his exasperation over repeating his arguments over and over.
Finally, probably due to his frustration, Job preempts Zophar by making his argument for him. He concedes to nothing that he did not already admit to in chapter 9. Further, Job does not lie like his friends. The friends assert that all men are guilty and suffer in consequence, yet somehow if Job repents he won’t. They argue that the wicked are punished by God in this life, though in reality not all wicked are punished and some wait until they die. It is the latter inconsistency that Job is confronting.
Job begins by asking, “What is the hope of the godless when he is cut off,
when God requires his life” (Job 27:8)? We see that the wicked have no hope in the next life (Job 27:9). It is worth noting that the wicked will not “delight in the Almighty” and “call on God at all times” (Job 27:10), which means that the opposite is true. The righteous will delight in the Almighty, calling on His name, for eternity in heaven. Heaven revolves around God, not around man’s pleasures.
After briefly pointing out to his friends that what he speaks is not twisted to misportray God and observably true, unlike their arguments (Job 27:11-12), Job then addresses Zophar’s possible points in explicitly:
They may profit and have many children, but some of the children suffer, possibly as the result of vengeance (Job 27:14). Their other children are not immune to disease (Job 27:15). The rich’s trust in their wealth proves to be as fragile as a spider’s web (Job 27:18, addressing Zophar in Job 8:14) as it does not save them from death, the great equalizer (Job 27:19). In the afterlife “terrors overtake him like a flood” (Job 27:20) and his soul is tossed about in the primordial waters of chaos and darkness of Sheol, an observation Matthew Henry concurs with (Job 27:21-22, ironically similar to the second circle of hell for lust in Dante’s Inferno, Canto 5). Lastly, men on Earth take pleasure that the wicked man is no more (Job 27:23), which is a common emotion when evil men are no more such as Hitler or Osama Bin Laden.
Job’s recounting of these things lacks just one comment that would make it easier to understand for modern readers: “And so what?” If Job would have said this to end his speech, it would be easier to understand what he was getting at: “Sure, God punishes the wicked in the next life, and some of their children suffer as a result of their parents wickedness, but why does God let them get away with it so long? He is surely not powerless to stop it!”
Perhaps, there is one line which appears inconsistent with the above attitude. It is our suspicion that liberal critical theologians seize upon it to argue that this argument never originally left Job’s lips and level the charge that an editor purposely added to the section. The line reads as follows: “Though he piles up silver like dust and prepares garments as plentiful as the clay, he may prepare it, but the just will wear it and the innocent will divide the silver” (Job 27:16-17).
Upon first glance, the preceding words could have just as easily left any of the friends’ mouths. It sounds an awful lot like the wicked getting their “just deserts” and the righteous getting theirs. Is this what Job is saying?
No. This is why it is so important to read verses 19 to 22 as about the afterlife and view verse 18 as a set up for how tenuous life is. If this be the case, then we can consistently read verses 16 through 22 about eschatology and the afterlife in general. Job, just as in chapter 26, is now stupefying his friends with his superior knowledge of the practically unknowable–things we ourselves only know by divine revelation because we have similar testimonies elsewhere in the Scripture.
How do we know that the riches gathered up by the wicked are inherited by the just is about the afterlife? First, we know that their wealth does not come with them when they die: “Woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full” (Luke 6:24). The comfort in their riches is received in full only in this life.
What happens to their wealth then? It is our opinion that it is forfeited by the wicked when they die and inherited by the righteous: “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). The world is in the hands of the wicked for a time, so when God does away with them and Satan at the last day, the righteous inherit the world and even greater riches in the New Jerusalem.
When the wicked rich forfeit their wealth and stand before God in judgement, they will be shamed. God will figuratively lead them into the New Jerusalem as vanquished enemies in procession, just as if they were POWs from a war of conquest. When they reach the city (again, this is figurative) they will serve the just as slaves:
[T]he ships of Tarshish will come first,
To bring your sons from afar,
Their silver and their gold with them…
Foreigners will build up your walls,
And their kings will minister to you
For in My wrath I struck you,
And in My favor I have had compassion on you.
Your gates will be open continually;
They will not be closed day or night,
So that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations,
With their kings led in procession.
For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish,
And the nations will be utterly ruined (Is 60:9-12).
Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks,
And foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers.
But you will be called the priests of the Lord;
You will be spoken of as ministers of our God.
You will eat the wealth of nations,
And in their riches you will boast (Is 61:5-6. See also Ps 68:29-31 where this is described, perhaps with a reference to demonic forces).
It is our contention that in the above, the silver and gold that God’s people bring from as far away as Tarshish is “the wealth of the nations.” What Isaiah is describing is God’s people inheriting the wealth of the nations, as well as their kings as slaves, and bringing them back to the New Jerusalem as booty. They are not bringing back wealth they made on their own.
What proof do we have of this contention? We have a picture of it in the Book of Exodus:
Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians (Ex 12:35-36).
It is worth noting that Job said that the just will inherit the wicked’s clothing and silver. We should not view it as a coincidence that the same exact thing happened to the Egyptians.
Further, we should not view the Egyptians “finding favor” with Israel as a sign that they felt bad for them and helped them out. Rather, God struck them with fear of the curses he had just performed against them and compelled them to accede to being “plundered.”
What appears to be occurring in Exodus is a foreshadowing of the “forced confession” of all of creation when Christ returns:
I have sworn by Myself,
The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness
And will not turn back,
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’
Men will come to Him,
And all who were angry at Him will be put to shame.
In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
Will be justified and will glory (Is 45:23-25; see also Ps 64:7-9).
Obviously, not every one who bows the knee is saved, otherwise they would not be angry and put to shame. They are forced into submission. This act is righteous because the very act of a word going forth from God’s mouth is righteous. He “will not turn back,” for He is not a man that changes His mind (Num 23:19). Further, He swears by His own name, as there is nothing higher He can swear by.
As a side note, it is important to note that “only in the Lord” is “righteousness,” and it is because of this it is “in the Lord” we are “justified.” Union with Christ, where he takes our sin and we are credited His righteousness so that God accounts us as Christ, is the only way we can be right before God. Man born of a woman cannot be just, but man born of the Spirit, in union with Christ, is “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3) and therefore perfectly righteous so that he will be “justified.”
Back to the matter at hand, the prince of this world and his nation, the Earth, with its corruption will perish and will be in the lake of fire for eternity. Clearly, it is not the sons of Israel who bring their own wealth, but rather they bring the plunder of the nations back to Israel. It once belonged to those who have now been defeated and it is they that are being brought back in procession from far and wide. However, none of this will occur before they are forced to bow the knee.
We can see this same idea in a couple proverbs and another Scripture, seconding the idea that the righteous inherit the wealth of the wicked.
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children and the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous (Prov 13:22).
He who increases his wealth by interest and usury gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor (Prov 28:8).
[T]o the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight (Ecc 2:26).
What can we discern from the preceding Scriptures? For one, the simplistic explanation that evil men purposely gather up wealth for the righteous is clearly not what is intended.
We can see this is Prov 13:22. A good man purposely saves up for not only his children, but his children’s children. Perhaps with this in mind, Aquinas and Caryl view the silver and garments in Job 27:17 as wealth gathered up for their children, who just so happen to be righteous.
There are problems with using this interpretation in the book of Job. First, we are talking about wicked parents, so they are not purposely saving for righteous children. Second, it is presumptuous to think that the children here are righteous to begin with. Lastly, internal evidence within the passage seems to dissuade us from the notion. The wicked man’s children in Job’s argument have already dealt with in verses 14 and 15. In verse 14 the wicked’s children are so poor they are in want of bread. In the next verse, they are dead. In neither of the verses is there any indication that the children are righteous. Rather, verses 14 and 15 seem to imply the wicked man’s children are completely out of view.
The righteous man, according to Prov 13:22, gathers up wealth for his own children. Is the spirit of the proverb that the wicked man also stores up wealth for his children? Clearly not! The proverb is saying that the righteous man leaves a legacy while the wicked man does not, but rather his legacy goes to the righteous. Here, the subject matter appears to be eschatological, referring to the same thing that Isaiah talked about.
Likewise, the dishonest banker in Prov 28:8 is clearly not intentionally defrauding the poor so he can give the money to the righteous, who are kind to the poor. The choice of wording is key. The dishonest banker is not simply thwarted. If this be the case, he who defrauds the poor ends up giving his wealth to the poor. However, this is not what the proverb is saying. The proverb says that the one who is gracious to the poor inherits the wealth, not necessarily the poor themselves. It is the righteous man that is in view.
Lastly, the “sinner” in Ecc 2:26. Do we need to say more? He was not gathering to give to the “one” who was good in God’s sight. However, regardless of his evil, God takes man’s evil and intends it for good and recompenses the just (Gen 50:20).
It is the plunder of the righteous taken from the hands of the wicked that Job speaks of when he says, “Though he piles up silver like dust and prepares garments as plentiful as the clay, he may prepare it, but the just will wear it and the innocent will divide the silver.” We have shown that the wicked’s wealth gets left behind when they are vanquished by God. Then, when the righteous inherit the world, they get the “wealth with it.
What exactly is the “wealth?” We have one speculation. Being that the whole topic refers to eschatology, the wealth is spiritual and not material.
What is spiritual about wealth in the sense that it can be taken at the expense of wicked men? The following may be a stretch, but consider how the Scripture speaks of how God “endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” in order “to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom 9:22-23).
Now, connecting the inheriting of the wicked’s wealth and the reprobation of sinners may be overly tenuous. However, there is in a real sense a tangible benefit to the righteous that the wicked even exists. It makes known to them the riches of His glory. This is a wealth obviously gained at the expense of the wicked and it is only finally appreciated when God judges the wicked in His righteousness. In fact, the riches of God’s glory, because they pertain to God, far excell any material riches that the wicked may presently forfeit to the righteous in the present life.
If we interpret the wealth of the wicked being inherited by the righteous in its proper eschatological context, Job’s argument against Zophar is made even clearer: Sure, the wicked don’t keep their wealth for eternity, nor do their children. In fact, even in the afterlife they will pay the full penalty and the righteous will be recompensed for their good works. However, why does God not act sooner against the wicked? And, why in this life does God recompense me evil for good?”
In response, Zophar is silent. Silencing his critics, Job moves on to his case against God, detailing his own righteousness so that God’s crushing of him would appear to us all the more senseless.