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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Job 21

In his reply to Zophar, Job addressed himself by way of exception, only to his friends and no longer to God. The thought that his Savior lives (Job 19:25) gives him rest. He responds to Zophar’s speech, but his answer is, as so often, addressed to the three friends together. The friends represent a God who brings righteous retribution on someone when he sins. They have all always claimed that God punishes the wicked with misfortune.

Job will refute this by demonstrating in detail that this is not true for all the wicked. He tells them that God’s righteousness is by no means always exercised on earth and can often not be observed by man. There are also wicked people who prosper and live long. But also the wicked who live a long time and is not harmed in his life, will one day have to account to God (Job 21:30).

Verses 1-6

The Seriousness of His Answer


Job answers Zophar (Job 21:1). His answer shows his unbroken spirit. He is no longer so bitter in his speaking about God, nor so longing for death. The friends had come to comfort him, but that failed completely. It has turned out the opposite. They have increased his burden. Job now says that they cannot comfort him in their words, but that they can comfort him by listening attentively to him (Job 21:2). What he has to say is fully worthy of their attention. It is a call to take his words seriously and to consider them.

Attentive listening requires a lot from the listener. If that can be done, it means comfort for the suffering one. Those who are unable to do so are better not to talk about someone else’s need and even less to concern themselves with it. A suffering person desires an open, listening ear and not an open, condemning mouth. Much grief has become heavier because of impatience and lack of empathy because what was really said was not listened to properly.

Job does not ask for understanding. He no longer seems to expect that. He asks for forbearance (Job 21:3). If only they could bear that which he speaks. He has something on his heart that he wants them to at least hear. When he has spoken, they can continue to mock him. He does not count on approval. Yet he wants to say what he has to say. But even if he were to complain to a man, does that mean that he should not be impatient? Who would not be, if everything had been taken away from him and God’s dealings with him were so inscrutable?

For himself it is so that he does not complain to a man (Job 21:4). His complaint has been addressed to God. Why, then, do the friends react so harshly? God does not blame Job for that. He would rather that we wrestle than be indifferent to Him or deal with His truth in an arrogant way and make it a dead matter. Job’s wrestling – that he cannot understand what God is doing to him – is proof that he is not indifferent or arrogant. His counselors moderate that they know what is going on.

Job wants them to turn to him in order to take in what grief and suffering he finds himself in (Job 21:5). When they realize this, they will be astonished that someone can suffer so badly, and without guilt. Then they will put their hand over their mouth, which means that they will not say another word. Maybe they will realize what a great injustice they are doing to him by accusing him of secret sins.

When he remembers the possible cause of all the mountains of suffering that have come upon him, namely that God allows injustice, he will be “overcome with horror” (Job 21:6). If he thinks of all the misery under which he has been buried, he will be overwhelmed by it. The shivers crawl over his back again, and his legs begin to tremble. He who has ever experienced something very intense and thinks back to it, recognizes that reaction of the flesh.

Verses 7-16

The Prosperity of the Wicked


Job now comes to the main subject of His answer. He presents a difficulty to his friends, and that is the prosperity of the wicked (cf. Psa 73:2-3; 12). The word “why” with which he begins should make them think (Job 21:7). As skillfully as Zophar described the demise of the wicked in the previous chapter, Job describes their prosperity. Everything contrasts with the fate that has struck him.

Job first asks three questions, after which he continues his argument with a few observations. The first question is why the wicked still live. What is the usefulness of this? Why has God given them life and why does He let them live? The second question is why He lets them continue to live so long that they grow old. The third question has to do with the content of their lives. Why can they become very powerful, live easy and carefree, get everything they want and even increase in wealth?

We can answer these questions in the light of the New Testament, but Job wrestles with them. For Job it is the world upside down. Everything has been taken away from him, the power of his life has disappeared, and its end is prematurely in sight. And this, while he is truly God-fearing. The friends have claimed that the wicked are cut off in the power of their lives (Job 20:26). But what he observes with the wicked is that they constantly enjoy the company of their children and grandchildren (Job 21:8). Contrary to what Zophar claims (Job 20:26), the wicked do not lose their children because of God’s judgments, whereas in his case he has lost them.

Look also at their houses (Job 21:9). There is peace there. That is because the disciplinary rod of God is not upon them. Job has heard the opposite from the mouths of his friends. According to them they do not have a moment of peace and are constantly in fear (Job 15:21-24). That is not true, at least not for all the wicked.

His cattle are also extremely fertile (Job 21:10). Each time an ox mates, a cow becomes pregnant. And when the calf is born, it is healthy. This is how his herd grows. God does not intervene to prevent that. Rather, it seems that He spares the wicked all that He sends to God-fearing people like Job.

Their offspring is numerous (Job 21:11). It looks like a herd, so many children are there. The children are also full of life, they go through life skipping. It indicates that they do not suffer from diseases, but are healthy. They also have fun in life. They make music, and at the same time they sing along with the music full of joy (Job 21:12). Hearing music makes them happy. In this way they live their lives carefree and cheerfully.

They enjoy the good things in life and know no trials and poverty. When their time comes, they die in peace, without being tormented by pain. Their funeral is attended by many. Under great interest, they go down to Sheol (Job 21:13). They have never been a burden to anyone, and there has been no sign of God’s displeasure in their lives (cf. Lk 16:19; 25). The scene of happiness in which the ungodly lives is a powerful denial of the friends’ claim that all evil people and their families suffer for their sins.

In addition, these wicked people not only ignore God, but even knowingly reject Him! Listen to what they dare to say to God: “Depart from us! We do not even desire the knowledge of Your ways” (Job 21:14). They may not say it in so many words, but this is the language that speaks from their lives. People can live in a way that they do not want to have anything to do with God. They don’t want God to interfere with their lives. He has to stay away from that, because it’s their life.

Nor are they people who have had no opportunity to know God’s ways, but they express that they don’t want to know them. They don’t want to know anything about Him. They don’t want to hear anything about the fact that He is in charge of everything and also of their lives. They are not interested in His ways. They decide for themselves how they live. If a man has come this far, how deeply he has sunk. And God doesn’t intervene!

They pronounce it prickly: “Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him?” (Job 21:15; cf. Exo 5:2; Pro 30:9). This is quite a defiance of God. They not only reject Him, but speak of Him with great contempt. They do not even seem to regard Him as a Person. After all, they do not ask the question “Who is the Almighty?”, but, as it literally, “What is the Almighty?” What does He think He is, that we would serve Him? What does He imagine that He would have authority over us and that we should submit to His will? By the way, is it of any profit if we turn to Him and “press Him”? Prayer is for the weak who cannot manage on their own. Then faith in God is a nice pacifier, to get the feeling that you are not alone. We don’t surrender to that foolishness.

We hear this language of the human heart everywhere. Man denies that God has authority over him. He wants to be independent and therefore he rejects all claims of his Creator. He does not want to see that he is dependent on Him for every breath (Dan 5:23b). He is not open to the fact that serving Him gives the greatest satisfaction and the greatest happiness. That he should live by grace is a reprehensible thought. Holding up his hand to get something is beneath his dignity as an independent being. No, he doesn’t need God and he doesn’t want Him.

But, Job says, they are very much mistaken. They think they have everything under control, but they would do well to remember that “their prosperity is not in their hand” (Job 21:16). It seems as if they have everything in their power and under control, but that is self-deception. It can all just slip out of their hands because of sudden disasters. They can also get sick or die and then it is also over with their enjoyment of it.

Job says he doesn’t look at life that way. It is far from him to act like a wicked man. He does not share the counsel of the wicked, nor does he share their advice. So his friends should not think that he is their lawyer and defends their way of life, even though he describes the prosperity of their lives.

Verses 17-21

Judgment Is Not Always Directly Visible


Job continues to refute what his friends have said about wickedness and the anger of God that He brings upon these wicked people during their lives. Well, let them prove it. Let them tell him how often it happens “that the lamp of the wicked” is “put out”, that is, that darkness comes into their lives through doom that strikes them because of their wickedness (Job 21:17). This means that their downfall is certain. It comes upon them without them being able to resist it. This happens to them by God Who in His anger inflicts sorrow on them because of their wickedness.

But does God really always act this way with every wicked person? That would mean that they would be blown away like straw by the wind, and taken away like worthless chaff by the storm (Job 21:18). But is that a uniform law, to which God acts invariably? Surely the friends will have to admit that this is not always true. This is an important argument of Job. After all, there are plenty of wicked people who have long and happy lives. The world is full of wicked people. The percentage of believers is small. Yet God does not put an end to all the wicked, but still endures them.

The friends have also said that the children of the wicked are also punished for their iniquity (Job 21:19; Job 20:10). But God does not always do that. Sometimes children do face the consequences of their parents’ sins (Exo 20:5). However, a child is not punished because of the sins of his parents (1Kgs 14:12-13; 2Chr 25:4), but because of his own sins (Eze 18:20; Gal 6:5). In the same way, the wicked is also requited by God, so that he notices that he has sinned against God.

Job clearly speaks out against the wicked. He must not be spared his decay, but see it with his own eyes (Job 21:20). God must make him drink “of the wrath of the Almighty. The wicked has expressed contempt for the Almighty (Job 21:15). But he will have to deal with Him and drink of His wrath. Then it is over with his talk. Then he will know Who he has always resisted and Who he has always ignored.

Once the wicked man has died, there is nothing left of the joy he enjoyed in his wicked life (Job 21:21). Once the number of his months has been cut off, he knows nothing more about it. In death, that no longer occupies him. How it goes with those he left behind is not his concern. He does not know what happens after him in his house and with his children. Cutting off the number of his months may indicate sudden death. He dies before he gets old. That can happen to the wicked as well.

Verses 22-26

People Live and Die Differently


No one can tell God how to deal with people. It is presumptuous to think that God should behave the way we think He should behave. This is a form of “teaching God” (Job 21:22). God is the Judge of even the highest created beings, the angels. So who can tell Him how He should do His work? No one, of course. God knows what He does when He allows the wicked to live, sometimes for a long time, sometimes for a short time. Therefore, the friends’ assertion that judgment in this life is always a sign of sin and prosperity of righteousness is false. It is good not to judge anything before time (1Cor 4:5).

There is much inequality in dying and the life that preceded it, Job says to his friends. This concerns not only age – one dies young, the other old – but also circumstances. A person can die in the strength of his life, without having known any worries (Job 21:23). He has also lived in peace, without fear. His circumstances do not at all indicate anything of God’s anger that would rest upon him and come upon him through his death. That his pails are full of milk (as it also can be translated) prove that his cows produce a lot of milk (Job 21:24). He himself is in good health and full of life when he dies.

Another, on the other hand, dies very differently. He dies in bitterness of soul (Job 21:25). The life he has had has been a life of misery. He has not eaten of the good. He had little or no pleasure during his life, but was filled with sorrow. That is a big difference in the life and death of two people.

It’s different in their deaths. After their death they lie together in the dust of death, in the grave (Job 21:26). Their fate is equal then. Both are covered with and eaten by worms (Isa 14:11). In the realm of the dead, all the wicked are equal. Prosperity or adversity in life does not give one a better place in the realm of the dead than the other. The bed of feathers of the rich and the bed of straw of the poor is changed in death for both into the dust of the earth. They lie down in it. The silk covering under which the rich one has lain and the rag covering under which the poor one has lain has turned into worms for both of them.

Verses 27-31

Job Accuses the Friends


After having explained that the wicked do not always receive their punishment in this life, Job confronts his friends with their own reasoning and theology (Job 21:27). He knows how they think about him, he knows their opinion about the cause of the misery in which he has ended up. He summarizes their reasoning and puts it clearly into words. You don’t have to be a profound thinker to know what they think. Their words and head shaking leave no doubt about it. They forge “plans” to prove that he is a sinner and a hypocrite. By doing so they violate him, they do him a great injustice and increase his pain.

He sees that their conception of him has not changed and can never change, because then the whole building of their thought world collapses. They continue to convince him that he is an evil, sinful man. They continue to insist on the anvil that the wicked are overwhelmed by disasters. Job is overwhelmed by disasters, so he is a wicked man. To prove that he knows their thoughts and plans, he cites their hurtful assertion – ‘wrong me’ (Job 21:27) means ‘hurting me’ – about the house and tent of the noble yet wicked person (Job 21:28). They say that by God’s judgment of their wickedness those have been overthrown and gone. With this they claim in so many words that Job, who has lost house and hearth, is in fact a wicked person.

But what the friends say does not correspond at all with the practice of life. Why didn’t they just check their reasoning with “the wayfaring men”, people who come from somewhere else, who have seen a little more of the world (Job 21:29). They can testify to what they have encountered. Is there any truth in their story left? Did those wayfaring men tell that they saw everywhere that the dwellings of wicked people were in ruins? Of course they didn’t.

Why do they not accept the testimonies of such people? They confirm the truth of what Job said, that the wicked often prosper and live long. Job continues his argument with the observation that the wicked man is often not punished directly for his wickedness, but that this only happens later (Job 21:30). He certainly does not escape punishment. He “is reserved for the day of calamity” (cf. 2Pet 2:4; Jude 1:6). Pharaoh of Egypt, who rejected God’s command again and again to let Israel go, is an example of such a person. It confirms once again that the wicked are not always punished immediately. Only an unwise and foolish man does not see this (Psa 92:7-8).

Job speaks of “the day of fury”. That is the day when God’s wrath comes upon the sins of the wicked. ‘Fury’ is plural. The wicked will have fury upon fury upon him. The judgment of God concerns every sin. It is also a judgment that continues endlessly. The wrath of God abides on him forever (Jn 3:36).

No one dares speak to the evildoer of his evil behavior (Job 21:31). Whoever does so will bring his anger upon himself. And you don’t want that, do you? We know there have been people who have done this, like Elijah to Ahab and Jeremiah to the sons of Josiah. John the baptist even paid with death for speaking to Herod of his sins. The evildoers were not immediately punished for their evil deeds and could just go on with their sins, because there was no one to punish them. Any evil that is not punished immediately after it is committed, or even during the life of the evildoer, will be repaid by God on the day of judgment.

Verses 32-33

The End in Death


Often the end of the enjoyment of prosperity for the wicked only comes when he dies. He does not die by divine judgment, but simply because he has grown old. Inevitably, the moment comes when he goes “the way of all the earth” (Jos 23:14) and is “carried to the grave”, that is, the cemetery, where he has his grave (Job 21:32). At his funeral the necessary splendor can still be shown. His tomb is cared for, provided with a guard of honor and guarded by guards, so that tomb robbers do not have a chance to ‘steal’ the treasures ‘given’ with him in the tomb.

On his gravestone it says: ‘Rest softly’. That’s what people think. The speeches at his funeral take place under the motto, “About the dead nothing but good.” They suppose that the clods that cover him, and that have been taken out of the wadis or riverbeds especially for him, are pleasing to him (Job 21:33). The man has always worked hard and lived well. He now has his deserved ‘final resting place’. Even in his death he remains an attraction. The description “all men will follow after him”, can mean the corpse procession. It can also mean the masses who visit his grave later. In any case, he dies as all people will do after him and as happened to the countless people who preceded him.

Job says all these things in response to his friends’ assumption that the wicked has no peace and quiet, neither in his life nor in his death. There are certainly ungodly people who already suffer in their lives because of their wicked life and then die a terrible death. What matters to him is to show that it cannot be said in general terms that wicked people are suffering and good people prosper. It is also sometimes the other way around that wicked people prosper, even to their death and good people suffer. What a difference with the theology of the three friends.

Verse 34

Conclusion


Job concludes his reflections on the prosperity that can also be the part of the wicked with a conclusion. His friends had come to comfort him (Job 2:11). But what empty words they have spoken so far (cf. Job 16:2). Nothing of what they have said applies to him. He has not had any use at all of it. On the contrary, with their theories they have aggravated his suffering. They have done nothing but admonish him and call him to repent of his sins. If only he would do that, he would be blessed again.

Their answers only revealed that they were unfaithful to their friendship with him. They have expressed their doubts about his uprightness more and more clearly. A true friend does not suppose any hidden sins and hypocrisy with his friend. He is also not enigmatic in his words if there is anything that needs correction. He does not do this concealed. Real friends trust each other through thick and thin, in prosperity and in adversity.

Instead of being convinced of Job’s uprightness by his perseverance, the friends accuse him of having a hardened and unconverted heart. They come to this conclusion because of his refusal to accept their call to repent.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Job 21". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/job-21.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.