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Does God Not Pay Attention?
Job continues his answer to Eliphaz. He knows that times are not stored up by the almighty” or, as it also can be translated “times are not hidden” from “the Almighty” (Job 24:1). By this he means that God is aware of what a person is going through, whether it be good times or bad times, which is what is meant in this part according to the context. God determines the time of everything (Ecc 3:1-8), just as He fixed a day when He will judge the earth (Acts 17:31; cf. Acts 1:7). This knowledge causes Job to ask why those who know Him do not see His days. By this he means that those who know God do not see Him acting against evil. He hides from them and does nothing against evil. Evil can just take its course.
Job gives a list of evil things that he observes and that God must also see. He keeps that list up to God, as it were. The first evil comes from people who “remove the landmarks” (Job 24:2). Removing landmarks means not respecting them. By moving the landmarks they steal land from someone else and thus enlarge their own area. In Israel this is a great crime, to which a curse is attached (Deu 27:17; Deu 19:14; Pro 22:28; Pro 23:10). Even today, God’s limits are being broken. We can think of marriage and sexuality.
Surely God must also see that an entire flock is robbed and that the new ‘owners’ graze that flock and enjoy the proceeds of milk. They are not directly punished for this evil. It seems that for them the saying ‘Ill-gotten gains never benefit anyone’ doesn’t apply. Their stolen property only benefits them. Here, just as in changing the landmarks, it’s about openly practiced evil. Not only is the flock robbed, but the stolen flock is also grazed openly.
The “donkeys of the orphans” they drive away (Job 24:3). These children are powerless in the face of these ruthless robbers. The donkey carried their merchandise to the market. They cannot carry that burden themselves. Now they have to stay at home and can’t earn anything.
From “the widow” who has to borrow money, they take the ox for a pledge. As a result, she can no longer work the land, so she has no prospect of earning a living. So she can never pay back the money she borrowed and get her ox back. With these ‘orphans and widows’ it is about exploitation of socially weak people who enjoy extra protection with God (Exo 22:22; Psa 68:5a).
“The needy” have nothing that can be stolen from them (Job 24:4). So they are chased away like troublesome flies. They are nothing more than hindrances, obstacles that stand in their way. “The poor” are miserable because they are despised. They have no courage to go against their oppressors. That’s why they hide. They seek a safe haven for these harsh people and seek support from each other.
Job’s friends have insinuated that Job has behaved like one of those wicked people and that he is now being punished for it. The great question of Job and so many others who are suffering, the great mystery that occupies them, is how God can keep His eyes closed to these things and strike a man as faithful as Job instead of the evildoers. The point of Job in these examples is to show that people who do evil to others often do not bear the consequences of their actions in this life. Apparently, they can proceed unpunished.
In Job 24:5-8 Job speaks of the poor and wretched just mentioned. In these verses with “they” are not meant the evildoers, but their victims. This change is introduced by “behold” (Job 24:5). Job compares the poor and wretched with “wild donkeys in the wilderness”. They are unbound animals, people with no fixed abode or residence, the pariahs. They rush from one place to another for their work. In this way they search for their food and are diligent in it. By doing so, they want to take care of their families.
They look for food on every field where something edible grows (Job 24:6). In this way they steal the harvest of the field from others, who bought and sown the seed for it and took care of the field. A vineyard undergoes the same fate. They check the vineyard to see if there is anything left. It may give them some satisfaction that it is the vineyard of the wicked who treats them so disdainfully.
Their misery is also evidenced by the fact that they have to spend the night ‘naked’ (Job 24:7). They have to spend the night without the protective warmth of an outer garment that acts as a blanket at night. Due to the lack of a roof over their heads, they also have no protection against the rain gushing over them (Job 24:8). The cold and the rain make the cold penetrate to their bones in their bodies. Expelled from their homes and naked they are without refuge. All that remains for them is to hide in the caves and holes of a rock.
The gang of robbers spares no one. Without compassion they kidnap an orphan and snatch it from a breast where it has still got some love (Job 24:9). They make these children into slaves for themselves or merchandise. And heaven is silent. From the poor, who already is so wretched, they take pledge, by which he is in their power.
All who are in their power walk around naked (Job 24:10). They let their victims carry sheaves, without allowing them to eat anything to satisfy their hunger. Even the cattle undergo better treatment (cf. Deu 25:4). The same applies to the squeezing of oil and the treading of the grapes in the winepress (Job 24:11). They get nothing of their harvest and are not allowed to drink water, even though they are so thirsty. What physical and mental torment. And God does not intervene! How can the friends say that people only suffer because of their own sins?
Not only in the fields, but also in the cities, the poor are abused and abused. It is not about bandits, but about rich people who oppress the poor. God allows all this (Job 24:12). Among the victims are “deadly wounded”. They cry out in pain. This is how these bandits sow fear and death and destruction. They cause enormous physical and mental suffering. And there is no one who stops them in their evil work or punishes them for it, not even God. He doesn’t seem to pay attention to the injustice done to the victims and remains seemingly unmoved. How can it be maintained that God “does not pay attention to folly”, for that is not compatible with justice, is it?
Darkness Envelops Sin
Job has described in the previous verses a certain category of evildoers who openly commit their sins. In the following verses he describes the fellow members of these evildoers, to whom they belong. He is going to talk about people who do their evil works in the darkness. The evildoers choose the night to perform their “unfruitful deeds of darkness” (Eph 5:11). In spiritual terms, this of course also applies to the category of evildoers described in the previous verses.
People who choose darkness to perform their sinful deeds do so because they hate light (Job 24:13; Jn 3:20). They do not know God’s ways, which are always in the light. “God is light” (1Jn 1:5). Because they hate light, they do not remain on His paths, for His light shines upon it. Job has said the opposite of himself (Job 23:11). Because they reject the Word of God, they go on “the paths of the violent” (Psa 17:4).
In Job 24:14-16 Job speaks of the murderer, the thief, and the adulterer, or transgressors of the sixth, eighth, and seventh command respectively. Before it becomes light, the murderer and thief become active (Job 24:14). First he kills “the poor and needy”, who are people without protection. Then he steals their paltry possessions.
The adulterer is also one who commits his sin in the night (Job 24:15; Pro 7:8-9). He waits until twilight before going on his way. He is well aware that he is going to do something that must remain hidden. No one is allowed to see him. And in case anyone should see him anyway, he puts on a mask, which means that he hides his face behind his upper garment by hoisting it up. Then he’s unrecognizable.
In Job 24:16 Job generally speaks of the worker of iniquity. What he does and who he is, he summarizes in three sentences:
1. He does his work in darkness.
2. During the day he shuts himself up, he hides himself, to go out the next night.
3. He abhors the light.
These men are as afraid of the morning as they are of “the thick darkness” that is the darkness of death (Job 24:17). Although they are familiar with the terrors of thick darkness, they are scared to death of daylight, for then there is a good chance that they will be caught or recognized. Of course, they want to avoid that at all costs. It is just as bad to be caught as it is to look death in the eye.
The power of what Job says does not only lie in the truth of what he observes. It is above all that he indicates that people commit the most heinous sins, without God raising a hand to judge them. All perpetrators of iniquity can continue unhindered. No one stops or punishes them.
The End of the Wicked
The wicked is “insignificant [or: light, swift] on the surface of the water” (Job 24:18). He disappears by judgment with the speed at which a twig on the surface of the water is chased by the wind. Perhaps this is the wicked one who is a pirate. The wicked do not confine themselves to the mainland in their looting. Also the sea is not a safe area for honest working people because of the presence of pirates.
Those who earn their living in an honest way are blessed. The wicked is cursed all over the earth, wherever he gets his share, on land or at sea. He will not turn to the vineyards to work there and earn his money in a respectable way.
What drought and heat do with snow water, does Sheol do with sinners (Job 24:19). Snow water evaporates with heat from drought and nothing is left of it. If a sinner lies in the grave, there is nothing left of him either. The body perishes. Even the sinner’s mother will forget him (Job 24:20). She doesn’t want to think about him anymore, because this son of hers has been a blessing to no one, but on the contrary a curse to many. The only ones who have anything to do with him are worms. For them his body is a welcome meal. No one else will miss him, no one will think of him. He is like a tree that is broken down by a storm. He breaks down and dies.
Job describes in these verses that death is the end for the wicked, but without referring to a judgment hereafter. Everything they have done is forgotten. The wicked seems to be exalted in his life and then cut away when he dies. Then everything is over, without anything of God’s wrath being visible in his life. The absence of judgment for the wicked is a mystery to Job. He does not understand this, he wrestles with it.
God Seems to Protect the Wicked
Job describes a few more wrongs the wicked man has committed without anyone punishing him. He has treated the childless and barren woman badly (Job 24:21). Such a woman already suffers from the defamation of childlessness, so that she also lacks children to help her. On top of that she now also has to deal with someone who despises her and hurts her.
The widow is also a defenseless woman. The wicked refuses to do good to a needy widow. That is considered sin. “Therefore, to one who knows [the] right [or: good] thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jam 4:17).
His ungodly actions are not limited to the poor, the wretched and the defenseless. The “valiant” are also a target for him (Job 24:22). He oppresses them and submits them to himself. When he rises, that is to say, when he rises to do an evil work, no one is certain of his life. Anyone can be his prey.
God does not hinder him and therefore the wicked one can continue to live without fear (Job 24:23). No one blocks him. This encourages him to continue his evil practice (cf. Ecc 8:11). But there is one thing he does not count on and that is that God’s eyes see him always and everywhere.
In the end, the wicked man has only been able to enjoy his prosperity for a short time (Job 24:24; cf. Job 20:5). Someone can grow old, but life is short after all. He may have made it in life. People looked up to him, out of fear or flattery. Job’s friends have said that the evil ones are still punished for their sins during their lives, and that great criminals bring great disasters upon themselves. Job denies this and shows that great criminals can also have great prestige.
But Job also knows that no matter how many wicked deeds the wicked man has done, and no matter how long he could go on without interference, his regime will come to an end. Suddenly he and his friends in evil are no longer in the land of the living. None of them escapes death. Then their causing death and destruction is over. It is also over with the enjoyment of the possessions they had appropriated through their sinful deeds.
They, like all other people, are brought low in the grave and locked up there, along with all those who have gone before them. It goes with them like “the heads of grain” that are cut off at harvest, when it is ripe, and not before that time. The cut off ears are then crushed. They are cut off from life to be judged afterwards. The latter is out of Job’s sight, but we know that after death the judgment comes (Heb 9:27).
After these words, Job challenges his friends with the words: Is it not so? (Job 24:25). He has mentioned facts that no one can deny. The evil ones prosper, live long and die peacefully, without any indication that God dislikes them. Does any one of them dare to dispute what he has said? Can anyone prove him a liar? They can’t get a word in edgeways. These are not meaningless, empty words, which can be dismissed as words of nothing. In Paul’s words, they are “words of sober truth [literally: of truth and rationality]” (Acts 26:25).
In the next chapter there will be one more response to these words from one of the friends. Bildad tries again. It is a short reply, without going into what Job said. He says a few more words about the greatness of God, and then his voice is also silent.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Job 24". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25