Job 21 – Job Answers Zophar’s Discourse
A. The problem of the prosperity of the wicked.
1. (1-3) Job’s opening plea.
Then Job answered and said:
“Listen carefully to my speech,
And let this be your consolation.
Bear with me that I may speak,
And after I have spoken, keep mocking.”
a. Listen carefully to my speech: Because of the way Job’s friends kept repeating themselves and their arguments to him, it was easy for Job to feel that they simply were not listening to him.
i. Instead, Job wanted to prove that he had been listening to them. “In this closing speech of the second cycle, Job was determined to prove that he had listened to what his counselors had said. This he did by quoting or otherwise alluding to their words and refuting them. Compare 20:11 with 21:7, 18:19 with 21:8, 18:5 with 21:17, 5:4 and 20:10 with 21:19, and 20:4 with 21:29.” (Smick)
b. After I have spoken, keep mocking: This indicates that Job’s hardness towards his friends has not lessened at all; nor has their hardness towards him. They speak with sharp and sarcastic words to each other.
2. (4-16) Considering the prosperity of the wicked.
“As for me, is my complaint against man?
And if it were, why should I not be impatient?
Look at me and be astonished;
Put your hand over your mouth.
Even when I remember I am terrified,
And trembling takes hold of my flesh.
Why do the wicked live and become old,
Yes, become mighty in power?
Their descendants are established with them in their sight,
And their offspring before their eyes.
Their houses are safe from fear,
Neither is the rod of God upon them.
Their bull breeds without failure;
Their cow calves without miscarriage.
They send forth their little ones like a flock,
And their children dance.
They sing to the tambourine and harp,
And rejoice to the sound of the flute.
They spend their days in wealth,
And in a moment go down to the grave.
Yet they say to God, ‘Depart from us,
For we do not desire the knowledge of Your ways.
Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him?
And what profit do we have if we pray to Him?’
Indeed their prosperity is not in their hand;
The counsel of the wicked is far from me.”
a. Is my complaint against man: This demonstrates again that Job’s real point of crisis was his conflict with God, not with man (especially with his friends). His crisis was fundamentally spiritual in nature, much more than being a medical crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis, or a family crisis. His struggle was against God, and he wondered where God was in the midst of this very dark time.
b. Look at me and be astonished: Thus far, Job’s friends looked at him and mostly accused and condemned him. He wanted them to take a step back (as it were) and be astonished at what had happened to this good and godly man.
c. Why do the wicked live and become old: Job challenged the moral order of the universe as previously understood by his friends. He challenged them to see that if it was possible for a wicked man to be seemingly blessed, then perhaps also a righteous man like Job could seem to be cursed.
i. Zophar said that the wicked die prematurely (Job 20:4-11); Job insisted that instead, the wicked live and become old.
ii. “Of some creatures we used to say, that they have nine lives; of some wicked men it may be thought so, they do evil a hundred times, and yet their days are prolonged. Manasseh reigned longest of any king in Judah. Pope John XXII (that monster and mortalist) lived longest of any pope, and died richest. God gives wealth, health, and long life to many wicked.” (Trapp)
d. Their descendants are established with them in their sight: In this and the following verses, Job explains many of the blessings that seem to come to many of the wicked, even as they reject God (Yet they say to God, “Depart from us”).
i. Bildad said that the wicked have no offspring or descendants to remember them (Job 18:19-21); Job countered that their descendants are established with them in their sight, and their offspring are before their eyes.
ii. “We see, beneath the Eastern imagery, the picture of the prosperous and powerful family in all lands and ages, founded in violence, or by fraud and wrong. ‘They do not see their children die,’ says the childless parent. ‘They are stretched upon no rack of lingering pain,’ says the tortured leper.” (Bradley)
iii. It is impossible to miss the contrast here. All the advantages that many of the wicked seemed to have, Job was deprived of.
· Job is the man whose descendants were cursed and not established.
· Job is the man whose house was subject to fear.
· Job is the man with the rod of God upon him.
· Job is the man whose livestock has perished.
· Job is the man whose children no longer dance.
iv. “Job was disturbed by the apparent injustice of it all. As noted the Book of Job does not deal with the matter of final future judgment that would set right the tables of justice. Such revelation will come later. Job, therefore, felt that immediate punishment for the wicked would be the only just procedure; but he found just the opposite in life.” (Smick)
v. Depart from us: “This is the language of their conduct, though not directly of their lips… Let us alone; we do not trouble thee. Thy ways are painful; we do not like cross-bearing. Thy ways are spiritual; we wish to live after the flesh. We have learned to do our own will; we do not wish to study thine.” (Clarke)
B. The wisdom of God and the prosperity of the wicked.
1. (17-21) God allows the wicked to prosper, at least in his own day.
“How often is the lamp of the wicked put out?
How often does their destruction come upon them,
The sorrows God distributes in His anger?
They are like straw before the wind,
And like chaff that a storm carries away.
They say, ‘God lays up one’s iniquity for his children’;
Let Him recompense him, that he may know it.
Let his eyes see his destruction,
And let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty.
For what does he care about his household after him,
When the number of his months is cut in half?”
a. How often is the lamp of the wicked put out: In Job’s rhetorical question he would answer, “Not often enough.” And it would do Job no satisfaction to hear that the judgment would instead come upon the wicked man’s descendants.
i. “If punishment is delayed, the friends can fall back another step and say that the children will pay for their fathers’ sins (Job 5:4; 20:10). Job considers this to be monstrous, encouraging a further depravity: ‘We can sin; our children will pay!’” (Andersen)
b. Let his eyes see his destruction: In thinking upon the seeming comfort of the wicked, Job almost despaired. He cried out to God to bring destruction upon the wicked in his own day, and not in the time of his household after him.
i. Job acknowledged that wickedness was never ultimately rewarded and was always punished in the end. The problem for Job was that it never seemed soon enough that the wicked would drink of the wrath of the Almighty. Job suffered in the now, and many of the wicked did not.
ii. Let him drink of the wrath: “The cup of God’s wrath, the cup of trembling, etc., is frequently expressed or referred to in the sacred writings, Deuteronomy 32:33; Isaiah 51:17-22; Jeremiah 25:15; Revelation 14:8. It appears to be a metaphor taken from those cups of poison which certain criminals were obliged to drink.” (Clarke)
2. (22-26) God is all wise, yet the wicked sometimes prosper and the godly sometimes suffer.
“Can anyone teach God knowledge,
Since He judges those on high?
One dies in his full strength,
Being wholly at ease and secure;
His pails are full of milk,
And the marrow of his bones is moist.
Another man dies in the bitterness of his soul,
Never having eaten with pleasure.
They lie down alike in the dust,
And worms cover them.”
a. Can anyone teach God knowledge: In the broader context, Job is indeed questioning the ways and wisdom of God in not bringing judgment sooner upon the wicked man. At the same time, he sensed that this was wrong, so he corrected himself with his own rhetorical question on this point.
i. “God is pleased to do wonderful contradictory things in man’s reason; so that we must needs confess an unsearchableness in his ways… In this work of his, human reason is blinder than a mole.” (Trapp)
ii. The King James Version translates Job 21:24 as, His breasts are full of milk. Upon this, Poole notes: “His breasts: the Hebrew word is not elsewhere used, and therefore it is diversely translated; either 1. Breasts. But that seems very improper here, because men’s breasts are not used to be filled with milk. Or, 2. Milk-pails. But their fullness is common, and no sign of eminent plenty, which is here designated.”
b. One dies in his full strength… another man dies in the bitterness of his soul… they lie down alike in the dust: Job is clearly uncomfortable in questioning the ways and wisdom of God, yet at the same time it just seemed so unfair that the good and bad would seemingly have the same fate.
i. “All these worldly differences are ended by death, and they lie in the grave without any distinction… So that no man can tell who is good, and who is bad, by any events which befall them in this life.” (Poole)
ii. Job is agonizing over these questions, but he is actually agonizing in a good way. “God would rather have us complain than be indifferent toward him or to handle his truths arrogantly and so reduce them to dead maxims. Job’s anguish over not understanding what God was doing is proof that he was not indifferent or arrogant.” (Smick)
3. (27-34) Job challenges the empty words of his friends.
“Look, I know your thoughts,
And the schemes with which you would wrong me.
For you say, ‘Where is the house of the prince?
And where is the tent,
The dwelling place of the wicked?’
Have you not asked those who travel the road?
And do you not know their signs?
For the wicked are reserved for the day of doom;
They shall be brought out on the day of wrath.
Who condemns his way to his face?
And who repays him for what he has done?
Yet he shall be brought to the grave,
And a vigil kept over the tomb.
The clods of the valley shall be sweet to him;
Everyone shall follow him,
As countless have gone before him.
How then can you comfort me with empty words,
Since falsehood remains in your answers?”
a. Look, I know your thoughts: As Job dared to question God in this way, he could see the reaction on the faces of his three friends. They were appalled that he spoke against God and His justice so.
i. Both Job and his friends didn’t understand God’s ways. Yet there were two significant differences between Job and his friends. First, his friends confidently claimed that they did understand, while Job admitted his perplexity. Second, for Job’s friends, these were matters of theological and moral theory and interesting topics for discussion; for the severely suffering Job, these were life-and-death questions.
b. Where is the house of the prince? And where is the tent, the dwelling place of the wicked: Job put these words of objection into the mouths of his friends. They thought it was all so simple to analyze; one needed only to look at the house of the prince and the tent… of the wicked to see that righteousness was rewarded and wickedness was punished by God’s moral order. Yet Job has tried to show that the matter just isn’t that simple.
i. “He was saying that it is impossible to derive a just law of retribution from what we observe in this present world.” (Smick)
c. Have you not asked those who travel the road?… For the wicked are reserved for the day of doom: Job knew that the wicked faced an ultimate unpleasant destiny; he was more upset that it didn’t seem to happen fast enough. He believed this knowledge was so common that one could ask those who travel the road and get the correct answer.
d. Who condemns his way to his face: The ultimate destiny for the wicked may be bad, but who will confront him now? Why does he get away with so much now? There may be an ultimate moral order to the universe, but why is it so slow in being accomplished?
e. He shall be brought to the grave, and a vigil kept over his tomb… the clods of the valley shall be sweet to him: Job understood that the wicked would indeed die; but many of the wicked enjoy honorable funerals and even their death is a kind of sweetness to them. It all just didn’t seem fair.
i. “Contrary to the description of the wicked in Job chapters 8 and 20, the ungodly man is often buried with the highest honors.” (Smick)
f. How then can you comfort me with empty words: The complexity of Job’s situation was far beyond the ability of his friends to properly analyze. They had no comfort for him with their empty words and their false answers.
i. “If in his friends’ arguments there was no comfort for him, it is equally true that in his answers he brought no conviction to them. All this is strangely suggestive. Men discussing human life are almost certain to blunder when they attempt to explain it.” (Morgan)
ii. “This chapter may be called Job’s triumph over the insinuated calumnies, and specious but false doctrines, of his opponents. The irritability of his temper no longer appears: from the time he got that glorious discovery of his Redeemer, and the joyous hope of an eternal inheritance, Job 19:25, etc., we find no more murmurings, nor unsanctified complainings. He is now full master of himself, and reasons conclusively, because he reasons coolly.” (Clarke)
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