The instances here given of the miserable condition of the wicked man in this world are expressed with great fulness and fluency of language, and the same thing returned to again and repeated in other words. Let us therefore reduce the particulars to their proper heads, and observe,
I. What his wickedness is for which he is punished.
1. The lusts of the flesh, here called the sins of his youth (Job 20:11); for those are the sins which, at that age, people are most tempted to. The forbidden pleasures of sense are said to be sweet in his mouth (Job 20:12); he indulges himself in all the gratifications of the carnal appetite, and takes an inordinate complacency in them, as yielding the most agreeable delights. That is the satisfaction which he hides under his tongue, and rolls there, as the most dainty delicate thing that can be. He keeps it still within his mouth (Job 20:13); let him have that, and he desires no more; he will never part with that for the spiritual and divine pleasures of religion, which he has no relish or nor affection for. His keeping it still in his mouth denotes his obstinately persisting in his sin (he spares it when he should kill and mortify it, and forsakes it not, but holds it fast, and goes on frowardly in it), and also his re-acting of his sin by revolving it and remembering it with pleasure, as that adulterous woman (Ezek. 23:19) who multiplied her whoredoms by calling to remembrance the days of her youth; so does this wicked man here. Or his hiding it and keeping it under his tongue denotes his industrious concealment of his beloved lust. Being a hypocrite, his haunts of sin are secret, that he may save the credit of his profession; but he who knows what is in the heart knows what is under the tongue too, and will discover it shortly.
2. The love of the world and the wealth of it. It is in worldly wealth that he places his happiness, and therefore he sets his heart upon it. See here, (1.) How greedy he is of it (Job 20:15): He has swallowed down riches as eagerly as ever a hungry man swallowed down meat; and is still crying, “Give, give.” It is that which he desired (Job 20:20); it was, in his eye, the best gift, and that which he coveted earnestly. (2.) What pains he takes for it: It is that which he laboured for (Job 20:18), not by honest diligence in a lawful calling, but by an unwearied prosecution of all ways and methods, per fas, per nefas—right or wrong, to be rich. We must labour, not to be rich (Prov. 23:4), but to be charitable, that we may have to give (Eph. 4:28), not to spend. (3.) What great things he promises himself from it, intimated in the rivers, the floods, the brooks of honey and butter (Job 20:17); his being disappointed of them supposes that he had flattered himself with the hopes of them: he expected rivers of sensual delights.
3. Violence and oppression, and injustice in his poor neighbours, Job 20:19. This was the sin of the giants of the old world, and a sin that, as much as any, brings God’s judgments upon nations and families. It is charged upon this wicked man, (1.) That he has forsaken the poor, taken no care of them, shown no kindness to them, nor made any provision for them. At first perhaps, for a pretence, he gave alms like the Pharisees, to gain a reputation; but, when he had served his turn by this practice, he left it off, and forsook the poor, whom before he seemed to be concerned for. Those who do good, but not from a good principle, though they may abound in it, will not abide in it. (2.) That he has oppressed them, crushed them, taken all advantages against them to do them a mischief. To enrich himself, he has robbed the spital, and made the poor poorer. (3.) That he has violently taken away their houses, which he had no right to, as Ahab took Naboth’s vineyard, not by secret fraud, by forgery, perjury, or some trick in law, but avowedly, and by open violence.
II. What his punishment is for this wickedness.
1. He shall be disappointed in his expectations, and shall not find that satisfaction in his worldly wealth which he vainly promised himself (Job 20:17): He shall never see the rivers, the floods, the brooks of honey and butter, with which he hoped to glut himself. The world is not that to those who love it, and court it, and admire it, which they fancy it will be. The enjoyment sinks far below the raised expectation.
2. He shall be diseased and distempered in his body; and how little comfort a man has in riches if he has not health! Sickness and pain, especially it they be in extremity, embitter all his enjoyments. This wicked man has all the delights of sense wound up to the height of pleasurableness; but what real happiness can he enjoy when his bones are full of the sins of his youth (Job 20:11), that is, of the effects of those sins? By his drunkenness and gluttony, his uncleanness and wantonness, when he was young, he contracted those diseases which are painful to him long after, and perhaps make his life very miserable, and, as Solomon speaks, consume his flesh and his body, Prov. 5:11. Perhaps he was given to fight when he was young, and then made nothing of a cut or a bruise in a fray; but he feels it in his bones long after. But can he get no ease, no relief? No, he is likely to carry his pains and diseases with him to the grave, or rather they are likely to carry him thither, and so the sins of his youth shall lie down with him in the dust; the very putrefying of his body in the grave is to him the effect of sin (Job 24:19), so that his iniquity is upon his bones there, Ezek. 32:27. The sin of sinners follows them to the other side death.
3. He shall be disquieted and troubled in his mind: Surely he shall not feel quietness in his belly, Job 20:20. He has not that ease in his own mind that people think he has, but is in continual agitation. The ill-gotten wealth which he has swallowed down makes him sick, and, like undigested meat, is always upbraiding him. Let none expect to enjoy that comfortably which they have gotten unjustly. The unquietness of his mind arises, (1.) From his conscience looking back, and filling him with the fear of the wrath of God against him for his wickedness. Even that wickedness which was sweet in the commission, and was rolled under the tongue as a delicate morsel, becomes bitter in the reflection, and, when it is reviewed, fills him with horror and vexation. In his bowels it is turned (Job 20:14) like John’s book, in his mouth as sweet as honey, but, when he had eaten it, his belly was bitter, Rev. 10:10. Such a thing is sin; it is turned into the gall of asps, than which nothing is more bitter, the poison of asps (Job 20:16), than which nothing more fatal, and so it will be to him; what he sucked so sweetly, and with so much pleasure, will prove to him the poison of asps; so will all unlawful gains be. The fawning tongue will prove the viper’s tongue. All the charming graces that are thought to be in sin will, when conscience is awakened, turn into so many raging furies. (2.) From his cares, looking forward, Job 20:22. In the fulness of his sufficiency, when he thinks himself most happy, and most sure of the continuance of his happiness, he shall be in straits, that is, he shall think himself so, through the anxieties and perplexities of his own mind, as that rich man who, when his ground brought forth plentifully, cried out, What shall I do? Luke 12:17.
4. He shall be dispossessed of his estate; that shall sink and dwindle away to nothing, so that he shall not rejoice therein, Job 20:18. He shall not only never rejoice truly, but not long rejoice at all. (1.) What he has unjustly swallowed he shall be compelled to disgorge (Job 20:15): He swallowed down riches, and then thought himself sure of them, and that they were as much his own as the meat he had eaten; but he was deceived: he shall vomit them up again; his own conscience perhaps may make him so uneasy in the keeping of what he has gotten that, for the quiet of his own mind, he shall make restitution, and that not with the pleasure of a virtue, but the pain of a vomit, and with the utmost reluctancy. Or, if he do not himself refund what he has violently taken away, God will, by his providence, force him to it, and bring it about, one way or other, that ill-gotten goods shall return to the right owners: God shall cast them out of his belly, while yet the love of the sin is not cast out of his heart. So loud shall the clamours of the poor, whom he has impoverished, be against him, that he shall be forced to send his children to them to soothe them and beg their pardon (Job 20:10): His children shall seek to please the poor, while his own hands shall restore them their goods with shame (Job 20:18): That which he laboured for, by all the arts of oppression, shall he restore, and shall not so swallow it down as to digest it; it shall not stay with him, but according to his shame shall the restitution be; having gotten a great deal unjustly, he shall restore a great deal, so that when every one has his own he will have but little left for himself. To be made to restore what was unjustly gotten, by the sanctifying grace of God, as Zaccheus was, is a great mercy; he voluntarily and cheerfully restored four-fold, and yet had a great deal left to give to the poor, Luke 19:8. But to be forced to restore, as Judas was, merely by the horrors of a despairing conscience, has none of that benefit and comfort attending it, for he threw down the pieces of silver and went and hanged himself. (2.) He shall be stripped of all he has and become a beggar. He that spoiled others shall himself be spoiled (Isa. 33:1); for every hand of the wicked shall be upon him. The innocent, whom he has wronged, sit down by their loss, saying, as David, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked, but my hand shall not be upon him, 1 Sam. 24:13. But though they have forgiven him, though they will make no reprisals, divine justice will, and often makes the wicked to avenge the quarrel of the righteous, and squeezes and crushes one bad man by the hand of another upon him. Thus, when he is plucked on all sides, he shall not save of that which he desired (Job 20:20), not only he shall not save it all, but he shall save nothing of it. There shall none of his meat (which he coveted so much, and fed upon with so much pleasure) be left, Job 20:21. All his neighbours and relations shall look upon him to be in such bad circumstances that, when he is dead, no man shall look for his goods, none of his kindred shall expect to be a penny the better for him, nor be willing to take out letters of administration for what he leaves behind him. In all this Zophar reflects upon Job, who had lost all and was reduced to the last extremity.